GREGOR Townsend believes that the bitter taste of defeat has played a key part in Glasgow’s magnificent unbeaten start to their inaugural European Rugby Champions Cup campaign.
Glasgow ground out a famous 15-13 victory over Montpellier, at the Altrad Stadium on Saturday evening in the south-west of France that, combined with their victory against Bath a week earlier at Scotstoun, has put Townsend’s team top of Pool Four on nine points.
After what was just Glasgow’s fifth victory in 43 European away-days, the Scots are now one point above Toulouse, with whom they have a crucial home and away double header in December. Montpellier and Bath are all but out of contention on two points and one respectively, and with a third of the pool campaign complete, Glasgow have control of their own destiny as they attempt to graduate from the group phase for the first time.
But the pragmatic Townsend has no doubt that the recipe for Saturday’s obdurate success, in which a much vaunted Montpellier back-line failed to find the whitewash, was cast in the misery of Glasgow’s only defeat of the new season, a fortnight back in the Guinness Pro12 at Ulster.
“What has pleased me so much has been our ability to learn from these big games and particularly the defeat we suffered at Ulster two weeks ago. What we learned from that loss has stood us in very good stead for both of the opening European games,” revealed the Glasgow head coach.
“But to win in France requires such a big effort and defensively I thought we were superb. We knew that Montpellier would have some big moments but to keep them out for the full 80 minutes, and restrict them to a penalty try, was a tremendous effort and one that came from every member of the group.
“What is important is that we have continued to learn since that Ulster game and these big European games have provided the group with more vital experience in that continuing process.
“I sort of had an insight into the French psyche last week and what we could expect on how Montpellier would try to assert their dominance, a lot of driving mauls, pressure in the scrum. There were times when they had an edge, but we came back strongly.
“To have taken nine points from the opening two games with a bonus point win from our home fixture with Bath and now this victory in Montpellier is very pleasing but at the same time we now have the two games with Toulouse ahead of us which will have a huge bearing on the outcome of the group.”
Worryingly Alex Dunbar’s half-time removal was caused by a recurrence of a thigh injury, however a concussed Tommy Seymour recovered fully after he was stretchered off before the interval following a horrendous clash of heads with Montpellier lock Sitaleki Timpani.
Now with Friday’s visit of Treviso to Scotstoun marking the end of the first third of the Guinness Pro12, Townsend is determined there will be no loss of focus.
“The visit of Treviso will be our seventh game in the league and we are determined to work as hard as we can to get the win we need and end the first third the league season in positive fashion,” vowed Townsend.
With Glasgow controlling the tempo and flow of the game Montpellier’s ill-discipline was repeatedly punished as the opening exchanges unfolded and Finn Russell, handed the No 10 jersey in preference to Duncan Weir, made the Frenchmen pay.
Three times the 22-year-old bisected the posts and Stuart Hogg was unlucky not to add to Glasgow’s tally with a long-range penalty that clipped an upright.
Although Montpellier scrum-half Benoit Paillaugue replied for the hosts, Glasgow continued to dictate play with a meticulously organised display. Captain Josh Strauss’ powerful ball-carrying was a fulcrum, while Warriors’ defensive line speed and greater tactical ingenuity continued to befuddle Fabien Galthe’s ponderous side.
With the first half edging towards its end Glasgow almost landed a decisive blow when Mark Bennett’s lethal running saw him latch onto a Dunbar pass only for the outside centre to be held up just short of the try-line. But with Glasgow penalised for going in at the side Montpellier were back within touching distance after Paillaugue claimed a second penalty to make it 9-6 to the visitors at the interval.
While the power of the huge Montpellier pack saw the opening quarter of the second period played almost exclusively in Glasgow territory, the Warriors defence remained impressively resolute.
In 59 minutes the game’s decisive moment arrived when Montpellier centre Robert Ebersohn was sin-binned after a fantastic Bennett break and Russell made the depleted hosts pay with another accurate kick.
With Russell once again on target, after a knock-on indiscretion by the clearly rattled hosts, Glasgow eased 15-6 clear.
But Galthe’s men, aware that their interest in European Rugby’s elite tournament was fading, continued to bludgeon away up front, although Glasgow’s increasingly impressive defence of their driving maul proved a thorn in the side of the unimaginative French attacking effort.
Yet, after a succession of scrums foundered illegally, hope sprung eternal for Montpellier as they were awarded a penalty try. But although Teddy Iribaren converted it was ultimately too little, too late for the surprisingly one-dimensional Top-14 team, for whom a losing bonus point, on home soil, will have proven scant consolation.
By contrast Glasgow march bravely on to their pivotal double-header with Toulouse at the beginning of December which will surely prove decisive in their bold bid to make history.
Scorers: Montpellier: Tries: Penalty. Cons: Iribaren. Pens: Paillaugue 2. Glasgow: Pens: Russell 5.
Montpellier: B Fall; T Nagusa, R Ranger, R Ebersohn, V Nasagavesi; E Selponi, B Paillaugue (T Iribaren 60); Y Watremez (M Nariashvili 49), M Ivaldi (T Bianchin 66), C King (N Mas 63), T Donnelly (T Privat 58), S Timani, K Galletier, A Qera, A Tulou (A Bias 58).
Glasgow: S Hogg; S Maitland (N Matawalu 51 - 58), M Bennett, A Dunbar (D Weir 40), T Seymour (DTH van der Merwe, 24); F Russell, H Pyrgos; G Reid (A Allan 70), P MacArthur (F Brown 66), E Murray (R de Klerk 80), T Swinson (L Nakarawa 64), J Gray, R Harley, C Fusaro (A Ashe 70), J Strauss.