The chant of “we are Warriors, we are Warriors” which regularly rings out from the Scotstoun stands was particularly apt last night as Glasgow showed their mettle and then some to tame Leicester Tigers and get their European Champions Cup campaign off to the perfect start.
This was a test of character as much as ability and Gregor Townsend’s men passed on both counts to register a scintillating victory in a full-blooded encounter which left the English visitors out for the count.
If last year’s opening pool loss to Northampton Saints at home had proved a deflating damp squib this was a fizzing firecracker of a response and sets Glasgow up perfectly in their bid for a first appearance in the quarter-finals of Europe’s elite tournament.
Much work remains to be done in what is a notoriously unforgiving competition, with a trip to Munster and back-to-back matches with French giants Racing 92 to come in the next couple of months.
Nevertheless, this thumping bonus-point win, thanks to a brace by Leonardo Sarto and further tries by Henry Pyrgos, Fraser Brown and Mark Bennett, was a joy to behold as Glasgow went toe-to-toe with the English heavyweights before utterly overwhelming them with a devastating display of attacking rugby. It was the two-time champions’ heaviest European defeat in terms of points conceded.
There was a blow for Glasgow before this clash of the sides occupying fourth places in both the Guinness Pro12 and Aviva Premiership got under way when it emerged that centre Alex Dunbar was not fit to play, with Bennett promoted to the starting line-up and seizing his chance.
Leicester edged a cagey opening ten minutes and Owen Williams got the visitors on the board with a close-range penalty.
The match then burst into life in the 13th minute when star Australia centre Matt Toomua made an inauspicious first contribution to his Leicester Tigers’ career on his hotly-anticipated debut as an outrageous tip tackle on Finn Russell sparked a furious response from the Warriors. A close to 30-man brawl broke out as a result but, after going to the TMO, French referee Mathieu Raynal deemed it to be a mere yellow-card offence, to the disgust of the Scotstoun crowd.
Jeers turned to cheers, however, as Stuart Hogg, who had extended his Warriors contract by two years earlier in the week, stepped up to take his traditional long-range penalty kicking duties and nailed the monster from just inside his own half to level things up.
The tetchiness lingered and it was Glasgow who were penalised next, with Leicester opting to kick to touch from 22 metres out.
The ensuing attacking phase ended with Glasgow losing a man of their own to the sin bin, Ryan Wilson the transgressor, and conceding a try as a ferocious driving maul saw Brendon O’Connor touching down and Williams converting.
The response was immediate as Glasgow got on the front foot and Italian wing Sarto showed some swiftness of thought and deed, picking up at the base of a ruck and scampering over.
Russell converted to square the game at 10-10 and Toomua returned from his light sentence to a chorus of boos.
Glasgow’s tails were up, however, and waves of pressure continued to lap against the Tigers’ defences, which could not hold and hooker Brown crashed over to spark bedlam in the Scotstoun stands, Russell again doing the necessary to give the home side the lead for the first time.
It was more of the same heading into the last ten minutes of the half as Glasgow continued to pound the Leicester lines and this time it was co-captain Pyrgos who found the gap on the right to score. Russell missed the conversion by a whisker but Glasgow were now 22-10 to the good.
That was pegged back to a nine-point advantage when Williams slotted a penalty and that remained the case at half-time after Hogg’s attempt at another 52-metre effort drifted wide.
Leicester’s attempts to get an early foothold in the second half were met with superb defending and canny play by the home side as they looked to probe for what could prove a decisive surge.
Russell extended the lead with a well-struck penalty and then sparked the most thrilling passage of play so far when his quick tap inside the Glasgow 22 ended up seeing Sarto scythe his way through the Leicester defence and switch the attack from right to left, only for the Tigers to hold up right on their line.
Replacement prop Logovii Mulipola was the next Leicester player to be sent to the sin bin as the English defence continued to creak but Glasgow still couldn’t find the knockout blow.
It finally came in the 68th minute when Bennett pounced and utilised his electric pace to run the length of the field under the posts for the bonus-point clinching score.
Man of the match Sarto then did the same down the right to bring down the curtain on a perfect opening night.