Glasgow Warriors 13
Sale Sharks 7
STUART BATHGATE @ Scotstoun Stadium
A WIN is a win, and in the opening round of the Champions Cup the priority has to be getting off to a solid start rather than achieving anything spectacular. Even so, as Glasgow turn their attention to the tougher challenges to come, beginning with Exeter away next weekend, they will know they cannot afford to play so slackly again if they are to have a serious chance of reaching the quarter-finals.
Dave Rennie’s side were 13-0 up at half-time against Sale, and might well have had a bigger lead. As it was, one further score after the break should have put the game beyond the Premiership side, but the Warriors lost their focus and might well have lost the match at the death.
“I thought first half we were really good, maybe even better than the 13-0 scoreline,” Rennie said. “We applied a lot of pressure, but the second half was disappointing.
“We talked a lot about controlling territory, forcing them to play from deeper, but we didn’t do that well enough. I just thought we overplayed down our end of the field.
“But having said that, our lineout was excellent, our defence lineout was excellent, likewise with the scrum. The big men put in a shift and that got us home in the end.”
Sale’s second-half fightback was especially impressive given they were without key players such as the World Cup winning scrum-half Faf de Klerk. But they were a touch lucky to leave with a losing bonus point, as Glasgow might well have gone for a drop goal in the closing minutes, and Steve Diamond, their director of rugby, insisted they had only themselves to blame for the loss.
“I thought we could have got a little bit more out of it, but at the end of the day it was probably a pretty fair result,” he said. “Our lineout performance was very disappointing – we just couldn’t get a foothold anywhere in the game. Some aspects of our game were OK, but our basics let us down and against a well-coached side like Glasgow who have good basics, you can’t get away with that.”
The first half was a slow-burning affair which did not really ignite until well after the half-hour. Glasgow were on top almost throughout, but they toiled to make their superiority count at first, with Adam Hastings going wide with a tenth-minute drop-goal attempt after heavy pressure had come up against a solid Sharks defence.
The stand-off eventually gave the home team the lead after quarter of an hour with a penalty from the ten-metre line, awarded after a Sale defender had not rolled away in the tackle. Hastings was off the mark with a second effort shortly thereafter, but he was on target with his third after 25 minutes.
The concern for Glasgow at that point was that they had done so much for so little reward, but with time running out before the break they stretched their lead with the first try of the match. George Horne, whose sniping had been a constant threat to Sale, broke from the blindside of a scrum. He passed to Sam Johnson, who swivelled then fed DTH van der Merwe, and the winger slipped the first tackle then beat the remaining two defenders for speed to touch down close to the left corner.
Hastings’ conversion made it 13-0 – a more accurate depiction of the Warriors’ dominance – but the clear concern was that they had not put the game beyond Sale’s reach when they had had more than ample possession with which to do so. That concern only grew greater as the second half went on and the Sharks stayed in the hunt.
Diamond threw on four substitutes – a new front row and a lock – three minutes into the second half. That begged the question why he had not made the changes at the break, but there appeared to be some method in the move when, refreshed by that new blood, Sale won a penalty at the next scrum. But, just as Glasgow were making things difficult for themselves, so Sale were more than capable of hampering their own efforts, and after AJ MacGinty had sent the penalty to touch, they duly lost the lineout.
It seemed for a time that the Warriors would have the match wrapped up as long as they got the next score, and Hastings came close to laying it on for Van der Merwe with a kick to the left corner which just evaded the winger on the bounce. But, having survived that let-off, Sale steadily fought back, and got right back into the contest with a try just inside the final quarter.
A knock-on by Tommy Seymour gave the visitors a scrum in good position, and an attack off the base ended with substitute Coenie Oosthuizen forcing his way over the line. MacGinty converted to make it a one-score game.
Rennie made his first substitution with 15 minutes to go, bringing on Chris Fusaro for Ryan Wilson. Alex Allan, Pete Horne, Ali Price and Kyle Steyn all followed as Glasgow tried to regain control of proceedings, and for a time they were once more the dominant force.
Going into the closing minutes they enjoyed a long stretch of possession which seemed sure either to offer up a drop-goal opportunity for Pete Horne or at least to run the clock down to 80 minutes. But they gave away a penalty with less than 40 seconds to play, and then ten phases later gave away another.
Sale, who had only got to the halfway line off the first award, kicked the second to the edge of the Warriors 22. It was a perfect position from which to launch a dramatic last-ditch move, but fortunately for Glasgow a knock-on ended the attack and the game.
That was arguably a deserved moment of good fortune, as the Warriors had been the better team for the bulk of the match. Even so, they know they will have to up their game considerably to have a chance at Sandy Park next week. Exeter will punish any mistakes far more brutally than Sale were able to do.
Glasgow Warriors: T Seymour; R Tagive, N Grigg, S Johnson, D van der Merwe; A Hastings, G Horne; O Kebble, F Brown, Z Fagerson, R Harley, S Cummings, R Wilson, C Gibbins (captain), M Fagerson. Subs: G Turner, A Allan, D Rae, T Swinson, C Fusaro, A Price, P Horne, K Steyn.
Sale Sharks: S Hammersley; M Yarde, C Redpath, L James, B McGuigan; A MacGinty, E Papier; R Harrison, R Webber, J Cooper-Woolley, B Evans (captain), J Phillips, J-L du Preez, B Curry, D du Preez. Subs: A Van der Merwe, C Oosthuizen, W John, M Postlethwaite, J Ross, G Warr, R du Preez, C Ashton.
Referee: A Ruiz (France).
Scorers: Glasgow: Try: Van der Merwe. Con: Hastings. Pens: Hastings 2.
Sale: Try: Oosthuizen. Con: MacGinty.
Scoring sequence: 3-0, 6-0, 11-0, 13-0 half-time, 13-5, 13-7.