Champions Cup analysis: Glasgow Warriors tantalisingly close to last-eight place

Prospect of two Scottish teams in last eight for first time looms larger as Edinburgh win in Newcastle

Ali Price on the attack for Glasgow Warriors against Lyon at a rainsoaked Scotstoun. Image: © Craig Watson. www.craigwatson.co.uk

WITH two rounds of pool games to go in the Champions Cup, Glasgow Warriors still have everything to play for following Saturday’s 21-10 home win over Lyon. There was a feeling of disappointment immediately after the match at their failure to get a bonus point – especially after their first try came after only 44 seconds – but on reflection, a yield of nine points from the two games against the French club has to go down as a success.

Ali Price, for one, was relatively satisfied with the outcome on an afternoon when freezing rain and a biting wind made for thoroughly unpleasant playing conditions. Asked if the two-try win should be seen as a good victory or a chance missed, the scrum-half was able to see things from both sides, but on balance was satisfied with an outcome that keeps his team in the hunt behind Saracens at the top of Pool Three.

“Probably a bit of both,” he said. “The start we had was pretty good and we got 18 points up. You have to win the game, but we put ourselves in a good position by getting two tries in the first 20 minutes.


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“Obviously we wanted to get five points. The second half wasn’t as good as we can produce, but that shows how far we’ve come as a team. We’ve come off the pitch after winning another European game, we’re sitting nice in our pool, and we’re disappointed that we didn’t get five points instead of four.

“We’re still very much in the mix. Yes, job done, could have been better, but a good win.

“It wasn’t easy. That’s probably the coldest I’ve ever played in. The rain was persistent throughout. The wind wasn’t too bad, it was just constant rain and how cold it was.

“It was a very stop-start game, especially for the outside backs. Our wingers were definitely feeling it. Then, when you get a touch and you’re cold, it isn’t ideal when you’re having to go into contact. There were a few errors, but we came away with four points in those conditions. As we said in the changing room, we’d rather be freezing and have won than be on the other end of the result.”

On paper, the simplest way for the Warriors to qualify for the quarter-finals is to go through as group winners. But even winning both of their remaining matches  at home to Cardiff then away to Saracens next month  will not guarantee that outcome given Saracens are four points ahead just now.

However, if Glasgow do beat the Blues with a bonus point, they will go through no matter what happens against Saracens as long as two other things happen: Edinburgh beat Montpellier in the last round in Pool Five, and Castres fail to pick up maximum points and overcome an adverse points differential from their last two games. That would give the Warriors 19 points, the same as Castres if the French club were to pick up 10 points. Montpellier would have a maximum of 18.

A total of 20 points for Glasgow would definitely ensure they finish above Castres in a runners-up slot. In Pool One, Toulouse and Leinster, on 17 and 15 points respectively, meet next month in Ireland, where a home win would increase the probability of both teams going through on more than 20. There is a similar scenario in Pool Four, where Racing and Ulster (19 and 14 points) go head to head in Belfast in round five. Montpellier and Edinburgh could also both end up on more than 20 points each in Pool Five as things stand, so again, Glasgow’s qualification could be in the hands of Richard Cockerill’s team.

Before all that, of course, there is the small matter of the 1872 Cup double-header, starting on Saturday when Dave Rennie takes his team to Murrayfield. Having made eight changes from the first game against Lyon, the Warriors head coach has every confidence in the depth of his squad, although his resources are now stretched at hooker after George Turner joined Fraser Brown on the injury list.

Brown, who sustained knee damage in France, will be out until February. Turner is likely to be back a lot sooner from the ankle injury that curtailed his involvement on Saturday, but if he is not passed fit for the first game against Edinburgh, Grant Stewart will start with Kevin Bryce probably on the bench. Characteristically, Rennie is disinclined to panic, and made a point of praising Stewart’s contribution against Lyon.

“We’ve still got a couple of hookers and we’ve got Robbie Smith, a young fella who’s trained a lot with us, so we’ve got reasonable depth there,” the coach said. “We’ll be hoping we get George back, but him and Fraser are very similar types of hookers, very dynamic and important to us. You see how George carried tonight, but Grant’s got great feet, he’s a young kid coming through, so it’ll be exciting for him because it looks like he’ll get a decent crack next week.”

 

CHAMPIONS CUP:  REMAINING POOL GAMES

January 2019

Pool One

Sat 12: Bath v Wasps, Leinster v Toulouse. Sun 20: Toulouse v Bath, Wasps v Leinster.

Pool Two

Fri 11: Gloucester v Munster. Sun 13: Exeter v Castres. Sat 19: Castres v Gloucester, Munster v Exeter.

Pool Three

Sun 13: Glasgow v Cardiff, Lyon v Saracens. Sat 19: Cardiff v Lyon, Saracens v Glasgow.

Pool Four

Sat 12: Scarlets v Leicester, Ulster v Racing 92. Sat 19: Leicester v Ulster, Racing v Scarlets.

Pool Five

Sat 12: Montpellier v Newcastle, Toulon v Edinburgh. Fri 18: Edinburgh v Montpellier, Newcastle v Toulon.


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About Stuart Bathgate 1259 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.