Glasgow Warriors left to rue missed opportunities against La Rochelle

It was a case of close but no cigar for Glasgow Warriors in their Champions Cup campaign opener at Stade Marcel Deflandre on Sunday afternoon.

Glasgow's Jack Dempsey runs with the ball during the European Rugby Champions Cup clash with La Rochelle.
Glasgow's Jack Dempsey runs with the ball during the European Rugby Champions Cup clash with La Rochelle.

Danny Wilson’s side deserve credit for going toe-to-toe with one of the top sides in France in their own backyard, but there has got to be a sense of frustration that they didn’t make the most of the opportunity they had created for themselves to claim a famous win.

They did, however, pick up a losing bonus-point, which could be crucial in the final shakedown, although the cut-throat format of this competition means that they must now win their three remaining pool matches to have any sort of chance of progressing to the knock-out stages.

Next up are Exeter Chiefs – the 2020 European Champions – at home this coming Saturday. That match will see Stuart Hogg and Jonny Gray return to their old Scotstoun stomping ground. The English side will be bouncing with confidence having hammered Montpellier 42-6 – with Gray scoring a hat-trick – on Saturday.

Glasgow started this game brightly and raced into 6-0 lead thanks to two Ross Thompson penalties, and it could have been 9-0 but the stand-off pushed his third shot at goal to the left of the posts.

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Warriors also had a chance to claim the first try of the match during this period, and Scott Cummings may look back and wonder whether he should have fed Kyle Steyn on his outside rather than go it alone when he found himself galloping in open prairie following an impressive passage of play from the visitors.

Having spent almost all of the first quarter on the back foot, La Rochelle showed what a dangerous proposition they can be in the 22nd minute with a sweeping attack which required an excellent cover-tackle from Sam Johnson on Victor Vito to snuff out the immediate threat.

The hosts finally opened their account when strong running from Brice Dulin and Gregory Alldritt took play deep into Warriors' territory and earned an offside penalty. The ball was kicked to the corner and Reda Wardi claimed the try after a powerful line-out drive.

Ihaia West added the conversion then kicked a penalty following a collapsed scrum by Warriors to open a four-point lead for the hosts at the break.

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West had an opportunity to fortify La Rochelle's position six minutes into the second half when Sione Tuipulotu was called for holding onto the ball on the deck, but his shot at goal floated right of the kindling.

Instead, it was Warriors who struck next, with Ali Price – playing an advantage – chipping over the top to Steyn in the in-goal area, with the winger doing well to gather then wrestle the ball to the deck under serious pressure. Thompson added the conversion.

La Rochelle roared back into it, and Darge was sent to the sin-bin for collapsing a maul as it accelerated towards the Warriors try-line, with the visitors lucky to not also concede a penalty try.

The hosts then produced a pulsating passage of play which eventually led to Eneriko Buliruarua going over for an excellent try on the right, converted by West.

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When Thompson was penalised for holding-on, West kicked three more points, but Warriors could still have salvaged a draw with a converted try. However, every time they got into a promising position, they coughed up possession just a bit too easily, and La Rochelle saw out the match fairly comfortably in the end.