Glasgow Warriors show spark but the light in Europe is all but out
That is again the case as Glasgow Warriors’ hopes of progressing to the quarter-finals of the Heineken Champions Cup hang precariously, almost certainly doomed but with the caveat of that old chestnut – still mathematically possible depending on other results.
Dave Rennie’s side have the fewest number of points of the five current second-placed teams, with only the three best runners-up to go through. A win at Sale Sharks, ideally with a bonus point, could give them a puncher’s chance but even Rennie admitted it was “unlikely”.
An early exit from Europe would undoubtedly be another blow in what has been a challenging, at times concerning season for a Warriors outfit on the cusp of major transformation but it was difficult to feel too downcast after this epic game for the ages.
After two home European games which yielded very little to cheer about this season, this was more like the Scotstoun of old as a match of thrills, spills and white-knuckle drama royally entertained the capacity crowd.
Glasgow went toe to toe with the English league leaders, now runaway Pool 2 winners and the tips of many to emerge as champions in Marseille come the end of the season.
A famous victory came tantalisingly close, but an undeserved loss was also avoided when star full-back Stuart Hogg, returning to his old manor with his new club, came so close to landing an extraordinary winning penalty from over 60 metres out.
What a mighty thump he gave it and, as an eerie hush descended, for a second it looked like it had the legs before astonishingly crashing back off the crossbar. Incredible scenes.
“We showed plenty of courage and heart out there, but obviously a draw is a disappointing result for us,” said Rennie afterwards. “Exeter are an extremely strong side and they hit us around the fringes. We needed to defend better there.
“I thought we played well and created a lot of opportunities, we just needed the ball to sit up – four tries were left out there if the ball had sat up. That would have made a big difference.”
Glasgow got off to a flier with early scores from Tommy Seymour and the revitalised Huw Jones but Exeter turned the screw, aided by crushing yellow cards in either half for Glasgow co-captain Callum Gibbins and hooker Fraser Brown.
The Chiefs’ Aussie scrum-half Nic White seized an intercept and raced in for a try but Exeter’s other tries were more roundhead than cavalier, Matt Kvesic (2) and Jacques Vermeulen ploughing over after intense barrages thrown at Glasgow’s defensive line. George Horne finished off a super move as young stand-off Adam Hastings enjoyed one of the best afternoon’s of his fledgling career with a performance marked by ambition, composure and superb kicking from the tee, although he did miss a drop- goal shot in the second half.
Glasgow’s collective spirit was displayed as sub wing Niko Matawalu thrust himself in with his forwards for a drive which ended with the Fijian touching down.
The Warriors were unfortunate to be denied what could have been a decisive score when a looped pass from Hastings which opened the door for a Sam Johnson ‘try’ was deemed fractionally forward by French referee Romain Poite.
“It was tight,” said Rennie of that call. “They ruled on that but we will accept it.
“We felt a bit of frustration on how the scrums were refereed today – we felt like we put them under a lot of pressure and we didn’t get rewarded for that.”
On Hastings, Rennie added: “He was pretty solid today.
“He needed to be a little bit more patient with the drop-goal, playing against the wind. We maybe should have built some phases and then go for the drop goal.
“We played a lot of good footy this afternoon, though, and there are a lot of positives to take.”
There may be frustration that the result was probably not enough to salvage Europe but if Glasgow do now kick on and get themselves back into a Guinness Pro14 play-offs spot they will look back at this January Saturday as the moment the old spark was rediscovered.
Homecoming hero Leone Nakarawa should be fully assimilated and ready to be unleashed soon but, with Jonny Gray set to join Hogg at Exeter and Rennie leaving for Australia at the end of the season to be replaced by Scotland forwards boss Danny Wilson as head coach, the Scotstoun faithful will need more than one glorious European occasion to convince that there is a sound strategy to keep moving the Warriors forward.