Glasgow Warriors’ hopes of progressing in the Heineken Champions Cup were blown off course and dealt a near critical blow as they slumped to a 12-7 home defeat by Pool 2 basement boys La Rochelle.
A poor match ruined by horrendous weather was given a dramatic finish it barely deserved as Ronan O’Gara’s side bounced back from a 27-24 loss to the Warriors on home soil last weekend.
Glasgow appeared to have saved their skins when Scotland lock Scott Cummings barrelled over in the dying minutes to level the match but the Television Match Official and English referee Wayne Barnes spotted a leading left arm from Glasgow No 8 Matt Fagerson to “the throat/neck area” of La Rochelle’s replacement prop Dany Priso. The end result was no try and a red card for the Glasgow forward.
“I’ve had a look at it and there’s clearly a forearm to the throat. It’s an attempted fend and he [Fagerson] hasn’t quite got it right," said Glasgow coach Dave Rennie after the game. "Obviously it came on the back of a try… it would have been a tough conversion from there for Adam but you never know.
“Look, it’s disappointing. We created so many other opportunities but lacked patience and tried to score off the first phase when we should have gone multi-phased.”
A losing bonus takes Glasgow up to nine points but pool leaders Exeter Chiefs, currently on 14 points, can streak away today when they meet Sale Sharks tomorrow afternoon. Only the three best runners-up out of the five pools progress to the quarter-finals.
On a dismal December evening the opening exchanges with a wet ball in squally showers were understandably scrappy.
European nights at Scotstoun are often electric occasions but, on a prime festive party night and against French opposition who were already out for the count in this competition after three losses from three, the attendance was well below capacity.
Those who did brave the conditions were finally given something to cheer about after a quarter of an hour when Glasgow got their rolling maul going and hooker Fraser Brown was able to get the opening try, with Adam Hastings adding the extras.
Coaches never like to talk about bonus points ahead of a game, the win needs to be earned first of course, but Rennie had acknowledged after seeing his side pick up none in the first three games that every point counts from now in this ultra-competitive competition.
A night so uninviting to open, running rugby that task was made harder but Brown’s touchdown had the Warriors a quarter of the way there.
The plot took a turn a few minutes later, however, and again it was the weather that set the tone. La Rochelle won a penalty and Aussie stand-off Brock James went for the sticks. Almost comically, the clean strike held up in the wind and fell 20 metres short and 20 metres wide to the right.
It couldn’t have worked out better for the French side, though, as they found themselves pressing on the Glasgow line. After a series of phases, and with penalty advantage, a delicious grubber into the right-hand corner by centre Brieuc Plessis was seized upon by wing Jules Favre for a superb try.
The wind defeated James again with his wide conversion attempt but, all of a sudden, La Rochelle were galvanised and Glasgow were in a real fight.
Even more so when the visitors snatched the half-time lead with an even more impressive score. Fijian centre Levani Botia unlocked the door with a magnificent offload and, after a sniping dart for the line by scrum-half Alexi Bales, the same man Botia was there to drive over under the posts.
That created a much simpler conversion for James and he duly slotted to make it 12-7 to La Rochelle at the break.
The start of the second half saw Glasgow stick with their instincts with a few brave attempts to attack from deep, which were scuppered by a well-organised opposition rush defence.
Niko Matawalu almost made the most of a kick through but was bundled into touch as the frustration deepened.
It was only to get worse as Glasgow toiled to break down a resilient outfit in increasingly miserable conditions. They forced an incredible run of eight penalties in ten minutes, with highly-regarded referee Barnes showing a notable disinclination to go to his book until an offence too far saw scrum-half Bales binned for a cheeky kick on the Glasgow side of an advancing scrum.
The Warriors went too expansive at times in obvious desperation as the game and, almost certainly, their future hopes in this competition, seemed to be slipping away.
Cummings’ try in the corner appeared to have levelled the match in the last minute, leaving Hastings with a tricky conversion for the win. Until the TMO and Barnes correctly spotted the offence by Fagerson in the lead up and chalked the try off.
Scorers: Glasgow: Try: Brown. Con: Hastings. La Rochelle: Tries: Favre, Botia. Con: James.
Glasgow Warriors: T Seymour; K Steyn, H Jones, S McDowall, N Matawalu; A Hastings, A Price; A Seiuli, F Brown, Z Fagerson, S Cummings, J Gray, R Wilson, C Gibbins, M Fagerson. Subs: N Grigg for McDowall (49), G Horne for Price (51) G Turner for Brown (68), A Allan for Z Fagerson (71), R Harley for Wilson (69), T Gordon for Gibbins (79). Not used: A Nicol, R Jackson.
La Rochelle: K Murimurivalu, J Favre, B Plessis, L Botia, M Andreu, B James, A Bales; R Wardi, F Bosch, S Puafisi, T Lavault, M Tanguy, K Gourdon, P Boudehent, G Alldritt. Subs: B Lebrun, D Priso, V Pelo, R Leroux, Z Kieft, T Berjon, I West, P Aguillon.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (Eng)