If Glasgow are to make a first ever appearance in the quarter-finals of the European Cup this season they are going to do it the hard way. Their opening fixture against Racing 92 in Paris was postponed last weekend and Glasgow turned up late for Saturday’s match against Saints...30 minutes late to be exact, by which time the game was all but over.
Half an hour into this match the visitors were 18-3 to the good, thanks to two tries from George Pisi and Ah See Tuala and twin penalties from the boot of Stephen Myler, who added a third on the stroke of half-time.
Glasgow stirred themselves just before the break, giving themselves a lifeline in the form of a well-worked Peter Horne try that came directly from a five-metre scrum.
The home side were much improved in the second 40, dominating possession and territory with Saints penned into their own 22 but still they could only manage to draw the second period 5-5. Josh Strauss had provided the scoring pass for Horne and the bearded one barrelled his way over the Saints line around the hour mark but not before Tuala had made the game safe with his second, and Saints’ third touchdown on 52 minutes, beating Sean Lamont to a well weighted grubber.
Glasgow went backwards in the set scrum and retreated even faster in several second-half lineout drives. Instead of hiring an expensive winger in Taqele Naiyaravoro, who didn’t start this match but impressed off the bench, Gregor Townsend might have been better advised to sign a big lump of a tighthead prop to anchor his scrum. He must be grateful that the Saints forward pack was missing four key internationals, Dylan Hartley, Alex Corbisiero, Tom Wood and Courtney Lawes, or things might have got very messy.
The Warriors’ European ambitions are now hanging by a thread and an early injury to Pat MacArthur’s jaw on Saturday evening has only exacerbated the club’s hooking crisis and Townsend was pretty sanguine in the circumstances.
“I thought it was flat in the first half,” the coach conceded. “I was pleased with how we played in the second half. We won penalty after penalty by moving the ball. We showed a lot of effort, we know there are areas we need to improve.
“Northampton, like Racing, are a massive set-piece team. We have to take that strength away for us to win games against them. It’s the first time this season that that team has played. I was OK with how we played after the initial setback.
“We got better and better and I am confident we’ll be a better team when we play the back-to-back games in three weeks’ time.”
Glasgow now go back to the day job for a couple of weeks before they have back-to-back matches against the Scarlets, both of which they need to win to have any realistic chance of a quarter-final berth. The region were soundly beaten by Racing in Wales on Saturday which suggests that the Parisian club have brought their game face to this competition, only making things even harder for Glasgow. The French forwards will have noted what Saints did to Glasgow’s set piece and be rubbing their hands in anticipation.
“Like a lot of English teams, they focused on the set piece with big forwards,” said stand-off Finn Russell in the absence of a spokesman from the front row union to explain what went wrong. “We knew it was always going to be a hard day for the forwards. For the backs, we got some good ball and we managed to create things but they had a good game plan and they stuck to it.”
Can Glasgow still qualify for the quarter-finals, was all anyone wanted to know?
“It’s still the same,” Russell argued. “We want to win all our games but obviously this was not one of them but now we need to win four or five of the next five games to qualify.
“That’s not us out of the tournament at all. It makes it a bit tougher for us but we are definitely not out of the tournament.”
Last season Bath lost their opening two matches and still qualified but that was a first and Glasgow know they cannot afford another performance, or another result, like this one.