Glasgow plan bad hair day for Stuart Hogg in Champions Cup

DTH Van der Merwe scores during the Champions Cup match between Glasgow and Sale at Scotstoun. Picture: Gary Hutchison/SNS/SRU
DTH Van der Merwe scores during the Champions Cup match between Glasgow and Sale at Scotstoun. Picture: Gary Hutchison/SNS/SRU
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DTH Van der Merwe may not have been aware at the time that he had equalled the record for Glasgow’s most prolific European tryscorer but he was evidently purring after the Warriors’ tight victory on Saturday.

It might not have been pretty at times but Glasgow got the job done, Van der Merwe collecting his tenth European try in Glasgow colours to draw level with Tommy Hayes, to make the difference in what was a classic curate’s egg of a game.

At half-time, 13-0 up after Van der Merwe applied the finish to a brilliantly-worked try, it seemed like a second-half scoosh to the inevitable bonus point was on the cards.

It then became a real nip-tucker, which even a wing like Van der Merwe enjoyed playing a part in as Glasgow’s assault on the Heineken Champions Cup started positively if not convincingly against a Sale Sharks side who showed real teeth in the second 40 minutes.

“It was definitely a game of two halves,” said the Canada internationalist who took his combined competition total of tries scored, including his stint at Scarlets, to 14 after a fierce attritional contest.

“It’s definitely a different style of rugby. We are known to be a team that wants to play with the ball from anywhere on the field. They [Sale] obviously did their homework and made it tough for us to get out of our 22, especially on kick-offs and so on. That just shows we have quality play
ers here and can play two styles of rugby. We will do whatever it takes to win.”

He might be a man who prefers having the ball and running into open space more often but van der Merwe admitted he enjoyed Saturday’s tense tussle.

“Sale have a very big forward pack and the way they want to play the game is to be dominant up front,” he reflected. “Our forwards really fronted up, chopped them low, hunted for the ball and kept them out of the game in the first half. We maybe took our foot off the gas in the second half.”

Van der Merwe insisted he was always confident of closing the deal out despite a spirited Sale fightback as they unloaded their bench in the second half.

“No, no panic,” said the 33-year-old. “Obviously it’s not nice, a bit squeaky bum time towards the end of the game, we don’t want to be in that position. But our defence was really good to only concede that one try [from Sharks replacement prop Coenie Oosthuizen], we really backed ourselves.”

Things could have gone a lot more smoothly if Van der Merwe had managed to latch on to a tantalising kick from stand-off Adam Hastings for a second match-sealing try early in the second half but it was an opportunity that slipped by.

“If it was a soccer ball, it would have gone straight into my hands,” reflected Van der Merwe with a rueful grin. “The oval ball bounces anywhere. I was gutted it didn’t bounce just a small amount, I was desperate to get that second try.”

Saturday’s game at Scotstoun may not have been everyone’s cup of tea, the bag may have been left in the mug to stew a bit you might say, but it was a compelling sporting contest that went right down to the wire.

Former Glasgow wing Byron McGuigan, pictured, got the gloves out towards the end of the first half as the battle heated up. “I never got to Byron,” chuckled Van der Merwe, who shares a southern African upbringing with the nine-times capped Scotland internationalist but was on the opposite wing on Saturday.

“He was losing his head on the other side of the pitch so going off at half-time I tapped him on the back and asked him ‘why are you so angry?’ in Afrikaans.

“I knew that will just have infuriated him a bit more.”

The focus now quickly switches to facing Exeter Chiefs in Devon on Saturday afternoon and Van der Merwe is relishing the challenge.

“We are not the biggest of teams out there but can take confidence out of a game like [Saturday] that we can go toe-to-toe and get a win. It gives us lots of confidence going into next week’s game.”

Of course, a certain Stuart Hogg will be a central focus in the lead-up and during the second Pool 2 encounter.

“Can’t wait,” said Van der Merwe. “It’s funny, it’s like Byron [McGuigan] today. If you get to tackle them or run against them, you can chat on the floor!

“Same with Hoggy, maybe give him a pinch on the floor or something like that, then talk about his hair. It still looks bad!

“Exeter are a quality side. They are in the [English] Premiership every year fighting to win it, a quality side. We have played against them before and I have played them with Newcastle as well and there are a lot of quality players there. You keep an eye on Hoggy but there’s guys who make that team tick.”