At the mid-point of the season with ten Guinness Pro14 games under their belt and three European fixtures down, Glasgow Warriors have a perfect 100 per cent record in both; without a win in Europe, undefeated domestically.
Coming just one season after Gregor Townsend finally dragged the Warriors into the Champions Cup quarter-finals for the first time in history, this season’s European collapse was doubly disappointing. Dave Rennie is well paid and he is not on first name terms with failure.
The Kiwi coach was inevitably asked the obvious question after Friday’s 29-22 defeat by Montpellier, why are his team so good in the league and so poor in Europe, and he offered the obvious answer.
“The Champions Cup is tougher than the Pro14, clearly,” he said. “You’re playing better sides, it’s a game of inches and when you make errors at this level you get punished.
“We’ve got away with stuff in Pro14 and squeezed out a result. For all we’ve got wrong we were only short by seven points and that makes it all the more frustrating.”
“It’s a game of inches,” Rennie later repeated. “You get a couple more things right and maybe you get a result. Down in Exeter it was 17-15 with two minutes to go and it wasn’t too dissimilar [against Montpellier, we played without the ball a lot and just made too many errors. You get exposed and it gets highlighted in a tougher competition against quality sides.”
Glasgow’s miserable run in Europe begs some searching questions about the quality of the day job and whether the Pro14 properly prepares the squad for the intense physical rigours of top-flight European rugby.
But Rennie’s point is pertinent; Glasgow have ridden their luck in the league and enjoyed precious little of the stuff in Europe. Montpellier’s opening try was fortunate to stand but the French team had already carved a huge hole in Glasgow’s midfield defence that was manned by Finn Russell and Peter Horne… Montpellier coach Vern Cotter noted as much after the match.
Horne wasn’t supposed to play 77 minutes but Sam Johnson tweaked his hamstring and suffered a suspected broken jaw in the third minute of the match so Rennie had little option but to partner him with Russell. The pair of them missed four tackles each as Glasgow managed a 83 per cent tackle completion rate compared to Montpellier’s 88 per cent. Johnson proved a big loss in defence and Alex Dunbar will surely return to plug that gap next weekend.
Sadly the official match statistics don’t offer a number for unforced errors because that was what cost Glasgow the match, that and their ill-discipline. George Turner has enjoyed a breakthrough year but he won’t enjoy Monday morning’s video review of this game because the hooker’s yellow card on 27 minutes completely altered the course of events. What do they say about the draft of a butterfly’s wings?
“The yellow card was definitely a turning point,” Cotter claimed. “They were leading 17-5 and inside our 22 so it turned the game around. George [Turner] will probably be a bit unhappy with that.”
Not half as unhappy, you suspect, as Rennie.
Ruaridh Jackson had another confident display at full-back and he was asked to address the team’s odd inability to hold on to the ball in attack. “We are trying to play an expansive high-tempo game and we maybe forced things too much,” replied Jackson. “We just needed to build phases and pick up the game as we went along and tire them out by making them defend, which was down to our errors.”
This forcing of the game was especially obvious in the final ten minutes when a converted try would have given Glasgow a late draw. The players upped the pace of the game until it got to breakneck at which point their skills unravelled before our eyes, a slew of passes dropped, most of which should never have been attempted in the first place.
Glasgow managed to lose more lineouts (six) than they won (five) but at least their set scrum took the game to Montpellier, winning two penalties, mostly thanks to prop Jamie Bhatti who grows in stature on a weekly basis. Moreover, there are a few big beasts to come back from injury including Stuart Hogg, Brian Alainu’uese, Greg Peterson and Oli Kebble.
“We’ve found out a bit about ourselves,” said Rennie, who has probably learned a little about what is needed to win in Europe to boot.