Sale Sharks 7
Glasgow Warriors 45
LEONE NAKARAWA marked his return to Glasgow Warriors colours with a try inside two and a half minutes of kick-off to get the ball rolling in a convincing victory over a youthful Sale Sharks outfit – but the big Fijian and his team-mates will now have to wait until 5pm tomorrow [Sunday] to discover whether there will be another chance to impress this season on European club rugby’s biggest stage.
Previous slip-ups in the pool stage of this Champions Cup campaign – most notably a lacklustre home defeat to La Rochelle in round four – means that, despite doing all they could to make the quarter-finals in this match, the Warriors must rely on Saracens and Gloucester falling short in their final pool matches tomorrow [Sunday] afternoon in order to make the last eight.
Warriors are currently in that final quarter-final qualifying place with 17 league points in the bag, while Saracens and Gloucester have 14 each, meaning that if either of those sides pick up a win then they will progress into the knock-out phases. Indeed, if Saracens manage a draw and score four tries in the process to pick up an extra bonus-point then they will progress ahead of Glasgow on aggregate points differential.
Adding further intrigue to the situation is the news earlier today that Saracens will be automatically relegated from the English Premiership at the end of this season for failing to get their player payments back under the league’s salary cap. This is bound to add an extra emotional charge to tomorrow’s match against Racing 92 at Allianz Park, but will that work in favour or against the vanquished team?
There is a wicked irony to the fact that Saracens are up against Racing 92, meaning Warriors are looking to the club which sacked Nakarawa earlier this season (for returning late from World Cup duty) to do them another huge favour. Racing 92 is also, of course, the club where talismanic former stand-off Finn Russell now plies his trade, so they will be hoping he can inspire his French team-mates to raise their game for the match.
Gloucester, meanwhile, head to Toulouse looking for the win they need – where they will be officiated by an all-Scottish refereeing team led by former Glasgow Warriors utility-back Mike Adamson!
Rennie will be in an aeroplane bound for Australia when all of this is going on. With Warriors now out of action until 14th February, he is using the break as an opportunity to do some reconnaissance for his next coaching assignment with the Wallabies. He will find out his current team’s fate when he takes a pitstop in Dubai, and would have much preferred to have it all sorted out before now.
“We probably did enough to get five points last week [against Exeter Chiefs] but didn’t, and the loss at home to La Rochelle was a killer because we definitely had more than enough opportunity there, but it what it is,” reflected Rennie afterwards.
“We’ve been playing a lot better footie recently, the last month has been far more clinical, but we’ve got no control of what happens from here – so we’ll just have to see how results go tomorrow.
Not long after Nakarawa had got the ball rolling by muscling over from close range after 20 good build-up phases almost straight from kick-off, things went from bad to worse for the Sharks when they lost skipper Jono Ross to the sin-bin when his forearm made contact with a Glasgow head post-tackle, and the visitors took almost immediate advantage through a Fraser Brown try off the back of a powerful line-out drive.
DTH van der Merwe came off his wing to burst onto a pass from the sniping Ali Price for the third try on 28 minutes, and, despite having Nakarawa in the bin for a re-entering a maul from the side, the bonus-point was in the bag by the 47th minute after Adam Hastings‘ quick tap-penalty allowed Price to send Sam Johnson over.
Sale got points on the board when replacement prop Jake Cooper-Woolley squeezed over after good work by Denny Solomona up the right wing, but Warriors were soon back in the driving seat. Hastings clicked the scoreboard back into gear with a penalty and Jonny Gray rumbled in for try number five.
Niko Matawalu got close but couldn’t quite get downward pressure on the ball as it bounced in the in-goal area, and Huw Jones had one chalked off after a fantastic sweeping attack because Gray had picked up from an offside position, before reward for all that pressure came through an excellent score by the lively George Turner.
The replacement hooker came back against the grain to hit a devastating line off a Hastings pop-pass then showed the pace and balance of a thoroughbred outside-centre to slalom past three defenders on his way to the line.
“I’m really rapt with that,” said Rennie, with regard to his team’s performance. “The boys worked hard. We held onto a lot of ball and generating some quick pill which put them under pressure.
This week’s Premiership reports:
Sale Sharks: J Carpenter (C Redpath 48, B Carlile 73)); D Solomona (T Roebuck 59), L James, J Williams, M Yarde; T Curtis (J Carpenter 67), W Cliff (F Warr 59); R Harrison, C Langdon (R Webber 48), W John ((J Cooper-Woolley 48), M Postlewhaite, J Phillips, T Curry, B Curry (C Neild 50), J Ross (S Dugdale 59).
Glasgow Warriors: G Bryce; D Van Der Merwe (N Matawalu 59), H Jones, S Johnson (P Horne 48), K Steyn; A Hastings, A Price (G Horne 57); A Seiuli (O Kebble 49), F Brown (G Turner 57), Z Fagerson (A Nicol, 65), S Cummings, J Gray, L Nakarawa, T Gordon (C Fusaro 65), R Wilson (R Harley 52).
Referee: Pascal Gauzère
Sale Sharks: Try: Cooper-Woolley; Con: Curtis.
Glasgow Warriors: Tries: Nakarawa, Brown, van der Merwe, Johnson, Gray, Taylor; Con: Hastings 6; Pen: Hastings.
Scoring sequence (Glasgow Warriors first): 0-5; 0-7; 0-12; 0-14; 0-19; 0-21 (h-t) 0-26; 0-28; 5-28; 7-28; 7-31; 7-36; 7-38; 7-43; 7-45.
Yellow cards –
Sale Sharks: Ross
Glasgow Warriors: Nakarawa