RUGBY FANS in Scotland desperately needed a lift after the last few weeks but they weren’t going to get it at Scotstoun last night as Glasgow fell to their third successive defeat in the Heineken Cup and they did so almost without firing a shot in anger.
Glasgow 6 - 9 Castres
Scorers: Glasgow - Pens; Wight (2) Castres - Pens; Kockott (3)
Castres didn’t do much but then again they did that little bit more than Glasgow did and that was all that was needed on the night. Three penalties to the visitors to two for Glasgow says all that can be said about this dirge but the fact that Castres left nine points on the table suggests that they probably deserved the points if not the plaudits.
Home coach Gregor Townsend said: “That was a horrible performance, particularly in the second half. We went from mistake to mistake. Mistakes happen but its how we react to them and whether we learn from them that is important.
“We will have to go away as coaches and ask ourselves how we can do a better job. Also we have to drum it into the players the importance of not making mistakes. For example our penalty count in the first half was crippling.”
Perhaps the Warriors’ fans had a premonition of what was to come because almost no one turned up, Scotstoun was almost empty with fewer than 3,500 die-hard fans making their way through the turnstiles.
Admittedly the home team were already toast in this tournament before the kick off after two defeats from two outings but, still, it is the Heineken Cup. The “blazers” appear to be fighting a lot harder than the players to ensure Scottish clubs have access to this competition.
Glasgow simply did not look like the team that was going for a record seventh consecutive win just a couple of weeks back. Since then Townsend’s team have lost to the big dogs from Ireland, Leinster and Munster, and those two reversals seems to have undermined all self belief carefully built up over the last few weeks and months.
First the good bits. Henry Pyrgos continued his good form after being one of the very few to enhance his reputation during the autumn series.
The roly poly prop Mike Cusak celebrated his new contract by giving a display of controlled power against a very good scrummaging side and Peter Horne showed some fancy footwork in the midfield. If someone had anticipated the centre’s little half breaks they might have amounted to something but all too often Glasgow’s execution of basic passing skills broke down under pressure which seems to be a national trait.
The Glasgow tackling had a bit of bite to it too, or at least it did after the team had allowed Castres winger Marcel Garvey to break through three early tackles. Garvey was in for Scotland international wing Max Evans, whose return to Glasgow was thwarted by a back injury which led to his late withdrawal.
Scott Wight also showed why he is preferred at stand-off. The Melrose man is an un-flashy type of player who moves at the same speed as continental drift but his option taking is sound and his steady hand on the tiller meant that Glasgow’s big men stayed on the front foot as long as they enjoyed the lions’ share of possession.
The first half does not stick in the memory with neither the players nor the fans raising much enthusiasm for the fray. Castres had one five metres lineout and conceded a penalty and allowed Glagsow to get out of jail.
Glasgow had an attacking lineout and threw a forward pass to give Castres an out. Glasgow did show some enterprise by tapping a penalty deep inside their own 22 but riveting rugby it wasn’t.
Castres scrum-half Rory Kockott had the good manners to miss three of his five kicks at goal, including one that bounced back off the upright and almost wrong-footed Al Kellock, and he still came away with the man of the match award. Wight kicked two from two for the home team to leave the scores tied at six apiece at the break.
The second half started much like the first had finished only this time it was Wight who missed an absolutely sitter in front of the posts.
Castres were gifted a promising attacking scrum after Peter Murchie knocked on five yards from his own try line but Wayne Barnes came to the rescue once again, pinging the Frenchmen for obstruction as they marched ominously towards the Glasgow line. Just minutes later Castres were convinced that prop Yannick Forestier had muscled the ball over the line and Kockott even urged Barnes to check with the TMO; a tall order when there are no cameras present.
Instead the visitors had to make do with a third penalty to Kockott, after Pyrgos misjudged an up and under, which nosed them again by 9-6 in this race of snails. The usual flurry of substitutions took place around the one hour mark and on of them, Nico Matawalu, sparked a rare Glasgow attack with his chip and chase.
In fact the Fijian looked the liveliest player on either side by a country mile and he deserves a start in Townsend’s team somewhere or other. Duncan Weir tapped the penalty, rather than go for goal, but when the ball was spun wide to the left Horne’s pass to van der Merwe was nearer his feet than his hands.
Deep inside the final quarter of the match Kellock was led off the field holding a bleeding left arm gingerly which didn’t look good and, with all the forward substitutes already on the field, Sean Maitland came onto the wing while van der Merwe was pressed into emergency service in the back row, at least until Tim Swinson returned to action.
Glasgow huffed and puffed in the final ten minutes but by this time Castres had a stranglehold on this match and, for all his prompting and probing, not even Matawalu could spark the home team into top gear.
The Kiwi flyer Maitland barely touched the ball on his debut and, when it finally reached him, he coughed up a soft penalty. Welcome to Scottish rugby.
Glasgow Warriors: Murchie, Seymour, Stuart Hogg, Horne, van der Merwe, Wight, Pyrgos; Cusack, Hall, Grant, Swinson, Kellock, Harley, Barclay, Strauss.
Castres Olympique: Martial, Garvey, Bai, Lamerat, Andreu, Bernard, Kockott; Wihongi, Bonello, Forestier, Rolland, Samson, Diarra, Bornman, Claasen.