Glasgow Warriors 13 - 7 Sale Sharks: Warriors hold on for narrow European Cup win

DTH Van Der Merwe goes over for Glasgow
DTH Van Der Merwe goes over for Glasgow
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Glasgow Warriors got their Heineken Champions Cup campaign off to a winning start but had to fight until the very last second to stave off a spirited fightback by Sale Sharks.

In the end, a try by DTH van der Merwe five minutes before the break proved crucial, but the English Premiership side, making their first appearance in Europe’s top-tier competition since 2012-13, rallied impressively from an unpromising start to make this a real nailbiter of a Pool 2 opener.

Half-time hopes for a push on to a possible bonus point were replaced 40 minutes later by relief for just the win and four points to kick off the campaign.

European days and nights in Glasgow are often a case of “Scotstoun for Thrills” but this was a day for hard graft, not champagne rugby – one for the purists.

A Sale side who had been bossed at the set-piece all day were pushing hard in the dying minutes for the converted try which would have seen them snatch the game. They were on the front foot and had their destiny in their hands following a penalty to the corner after the clock had passed 80 minutes, only for a knock-on by sub Matthew Postlethwaite to bring the contest to a finish – greeted by a roar of relief from the home support.

The first-half was a slow burn on what was an early kick-off in chilly but good conditions in the west of Glasgow.

The Warriors dominated but found converting pressure into points a struggle until a brilliant try before the break released the pressure.

Early on it was an arm wrestle in which the Scots had the upper hand but couldn’t quite apply the finishing strike. Hooker Fraser Brown, who signed a new long-term deal with the club last week, was to the fore as the home forwards took the battle to the English visitors.

Stand-off Adam Hastings was wide with an admirably decent crack at a long-range drop goal in the ninth minute before opening the scoring with a penalty six minutes later.

He was wayward with another attempt in the 24th minute before doubling the lead two minutes after that.

A tense battle got feisty at stages, with Scotland wing Byron McGuigan sparking some handbags following a touchline fracas, but Glasgow landed a crucial punch in the 35th minute with a superbly-worked try.

Scrum-half George Horne made a typically sharp break and passed to Sam Johnson, whose brilliant offload on the swivel unleashed veteran wing Van der Merwe to surge over for a 14th try in a competition in which he has also represented Scarlets.

Hastings’ sweetly-struck conversion made it 13-0 at the break.

Europe’s record tryscorer Chris Ashton was introduced in the 49th minute and centre Cameron Redpath, the son of former Scotland scrum-half Bryan who had been exposed on a couple of occasions, was replaced by Robert du Preez soon after.

The penalty count climbed to 8-3 in Glasgow’s favour, which reflected a dominance which still wasn’t having a knock-on effect on the scoreboard as the clock ticked towards the last 20 minutes.

An intelligent chip through by Hastings was a whisker away from Van der Merwe’s grasp but didn’t quite stick, which kind of summed up the home side’s afternoon.

It had reached the point where anything other than a Glasgow win looked extremely unlikely but also that the chance of a potentially crucial bonus point was slowly slipping away.

Then came a momentum shift as Sale pushed back hard, put some phases together and replacement loosehead Coenie Oosthuizen, the South African known as “Shrek”, did the donkey work needed to writhe over the line and give the Sharks a scent of blood.

It’s amazing how quickly games can spin on their axis, and all of a sudden, after AJ MacGinty’s conversion, it was the English side who looked the better team.

Impressive defence from Glasgow, who brought on Ali Price, pictured, for his comeback after a foot injury in the World Cup, stemmed the flow.

And a tense closing ten minutes were negotiated by the skin of Glasgow’s teeth to get the job done.