Chance to buck a historical trend
In the 28-year history of club rugby’s pan-European competitions Scottish teams have been on the outside looking in, noses pressed against the window as sides from other nations shared out the prizes. Glasgow Warriors now have the chance to buck that trend, to bring the silverware to Scotland for the first time. Their gritty win over the Scarlets in Llanelli has set up a Challenge Cup final against Toulon and the opportunity to make history. No Scottish club has ever lifted the trophy in a competition dominated by sides from England (12 wins) and France (11 wins). There have been two victories for Wales (Cardiff in 2010 and 2018) and one for Ireland (Leinster in 2013) but the best performance by a Scottish team before this season was Edinburgh’s run to the 2014-15 final. Under the stewardship of Alan Solomons, they saw off Bordeaux, Lyon, London Welsh, London Irish and Newport Gwent Dragons before falling to a Greig Laidlaw-inspired Gloucester in the final at Twickenham Stoop. Franco Smith’s Glasgow will now go to Dublin on May 19 looking to go one better than their inter-city rivals.
Johnny Matthews’ record-breaking performance
Johnny Matthews injected fresh energy into Glasgow when he stepped off the bench to replace George Turner seven minutes into the second half of the semi-final in Llanelli. Within three minutes he had bagged a trademark try from a lineout maul which edged the Warriors 19-17 ahead and they never looked back. Matthews’ score had extra significance because it was his 13th of the season, a club record, beating the previous mark of 12 shared by George Horne (in 2018-19), DTH van der Merwe (2010-11), Thom Evans (2008-09) and Sean Lamont (2003-04). Matthews’ exploits against Scarlets also put the hooker out in front as the Challenge Cup’s top try-scorer this season on seven ahead of the second semi-final between Toulon and Benetton.
Jack Dempsey offers frank assessment on live TV
Jack Dempsey’s abrasive performance in Llanelli saw him deservedly named player of the match. The No 8 was tireless and aggressive throughout and could be forgiven his slightly salty language as he lauded the benefits of Franco Smith’s tough pre-season as he was interviewed by BT Sport after the match. “The amount of work we’ve put in since pre-season, it’s a bit of a cliche but we’ve worked our arses off, genuinely, and to be in this position in Europe is a good stepping stone and a reward,” said Dempsey.
Toulon aiming for fifth time lucky
Toulon booked their place in the Challenge Cup final with a 23-0 win over Benetton in Bordeaux on Sunday. It is the fifth time the French club have made it this far but they have yet to lift the trophy, having fallen at the final hurdle in 2010 (losing to Cardiff), 2012 (to Biarritz), 2020 (to Bristol) and last season when Lyon beat them 30-12.