Glasgow Warriors 30
La Rochelle 38
DAVID BARNES @ Scotstoun
THEY might still make it to the last 16 of this season’s Champions Cup but this one-sided defeat, hot on the heels of last weekend’s pummelling at Sandy Park, reinforced that Glasgow Warriors are currently a long way off being serious players at Europe’s top table. Two late tries meant the final score-line flattered the hosts.
Glasgow will progress to the knock-out phase of the tournament if both Montpellier (who were humiliated 89-7 by Leinster last weekend) fail to claim a single match point from their home encounter with Exeter Chiefs at 5.30pm on Sunday and Ospreys (pointless in the tournament so far) fail to secure a bonus point win with a 16-point margin away to Sale Sharks at 1pm.
The frustrating thing from a Warriors point of view is that despite having so little of this game, they were still in a strong position to win the match after Josh McKay‘s try early in the second half, but then handed over the initiative with some really weak defending and sloppy discipline which was in stark contrast with the resilience shown during most of the first 40 minutes.
“When you play the heavyweights of Europe you cannot give them those sorts of error opportunities, and that’s what happened tonight,” reflected Warriors head coach Danny Wilson. ” We gave them too many soft points, we scored 30 points and lost at home and that’s disappointing.
“We still have a lifeline in this competition,” he added. “We wanted it to be in our own hands, we genuinely felt we could win today at home where we have a really good record, but it wasn’t to be.
“It was a good side we were playing against – a big, physical side – and perhaps some of the errors you get away with in other games you won’t get away with here. This side will score, that’s why they are where they are, and reached the European Cup Final last year.
“What we can’t afford to do, which we have done in the last two weeks, is make two errors on the bounce.”
The hosts were on the back foot from the very beginning and visiting loose-head Danny Priso thought he’d managed to get the ball down over the line after several minutes of relentless pressure. He didn’t get the benefit of the doubt, but La Rochelle kept their foot on the gas and Warriors were reduced to 14 men when captain Fraser Brown was shown yellow for dropping a maul a few yards from his own line.
Warriors’ survival during this period was aided when visiting stand-off Pierre Popelin – appearing to erroneously think that his side was playing an advantage – sent a wasteful cross-kick straight into touch. It was about the only time the Frenchman put a foot wrong during a man-of-the-match performance.
That loose kick prompted one of the more peculiar sights of this Champions Cup campaign so far of scrum-half Ali Price deputising for Brown to throw in at the line-out, and he managed to find his man with a slightly wobbly arrow to Scott Cummings in the middle.
Price then demonstrated the range of his repertoire when he sent an excellent kick for position up to La Rochelle’s 22 a few phases later, and when the visitors compounded a knock-on with a player picking the ball up from an offside position, it handed Thompson an opportunity to kick the home side into a three-point lead against the run of play.
For the first but not the last time in this match, Warriors conceded soft points immediately after scoring themselves, this time as a consequence of Scott Cummings going off his feet, which allowed Popelin to immediately square it.
La Rochelle continued to dominate proceedings and Warriors did well to keep them out during the remainder of that 10 minute period with 14 men, but no sooner had Brown rejoin the fray and the dam finally burst, with Raymond Rhule stretching out of Sam Johnson‘s tackle and over the line, with Popelin nailing the tricky touchline conversion for good measure.
When Warriors made it into La Rochelle territory for only the second time in the match on 25 minutes, they again took something from it, with Thompson firing home another penalty. Then, with 32 minutes played, the stand-off reduced the gap to a single point when Romain Sazy was penalised for being in front of the kicker.
The prospect of an improbable half-time lead for the home side developed whenMcKay broke clear, but he stepped inside when a pass to Kyle Steyn on his outside was on, and despite Rufus McLean on the left touchline and Jack Dempsey in the middle of the park both making dents, Warriors couldn’t find a way through.
A dropped pass allowed La Rochelle to hoof the ball 60-yards down field, with Steyn scuttling back to tidy up, but Price then kicked his clearance out on the full despite referee Karl Dickson warning that he was outside his own 22. From there, La Rochelle delivered a gut-punch with a try for Paul Boudehent off the back of a powerful line-out maul in the last play of the half.
Despite this, Warriors won’t have been too despondent at 9-16 down going into the break. They had shown tremendous resilience to absorb so much pressure and had been pragmatically clinical in collecting three sets of three points on those rare occasions they’d got within range. La Rochelle’s behemoth pack has history of tiring later in matches, so the home side will have fancied that they could turn the tide after the break.
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The hosts certainly fired out of the blocks at the start of the second half, with Thompson ghosting through a gap in midfield and releasing McKay for a fine try, which Thompson then converted to edge his side into an unlikely – based on the balance of play in the first half – lead.
The key now was for the home team to kick-on, but Warriors fell apart instead, coughing up 20 points inside a lamentable five minute window.
First, a scrum free-kick followed by weak tackling allowed hooker Pierre Bougarit to power in his team’s third try, Popelin converted, then kicked a penalty awarded against Thompson for holding-on, before Pierre Boudehent piled on the misery with a breakaway try, with Popelin again converting and kicking another penalty.
By the time Warriors finally managed to steady the ship, it was too late. So, while two tries from replacement full-back Ollie Smith grabbed some respectability, it wasn’t even enough to secure a bonus-point which would have made Montpellier’s challenge against Exeter that significant bit harder.
Ihaia West also scored a late penalty for La Rochelle.
Glasgow Warriors: J McKay (O Smith 74); K Steyn, S Tuipulotu, S Johnson, R McLean; R Thompson (D Weir 68), A Price (G Horne 61); O Kebble (J Bhatti 47), F Brown (G Turner 47), Z Fagerson (S Berghan 63), S Cummings, R Gray (K McDonald 61), M Fagerson (R Wilson 63), R Darge, J Dempsey.
La Rochelle: B Dulin; D Leyds, R Rhule (E Buliruarua 72), J Danty, P Boudehent; P Popelin ( I West 63), T Kerr Barlow (T Berjon 64); D Priso ((L Aouf 63), P Bourgarit (F Bosch 47), U Atonio (G Papudze 58), R Sazy (G Papidze 58), R Picquette, R Bourdeau (M Tanguy 63), P Boudehent, G Alldritt.
Referee: Karl Dickson
Glasgow Warriors: Tries: McKay, Smith 2; Cons: Thompson 2, Weir; Pens: Thompson 3.
La Rochelle: Tries: Rhule, Paul Boudehent, Bourgarit, Pierre Boudehent; Cons: Popelin 3; Pens: Popelin 3, West.
Scoring sequence (Glasgow Warriors first): 3-0; 3-3; 3-8; 3-10; 6-10; 9-10; 9-15 (h-t) 14-15; 16-15; 16-20; 16-22; 16-25; 16-30; 13-32; 16-35; 21-35; 23-35; 23-38; 28-38; 30-38.
Yellow cards –
Glasgow Warriors: Brown (5mins)
La Rochelle: Alldritt (67mins), Leyds (74mins).
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