Glasgow Warriors 22
DAVID BARNES @ Scotstoun
IT was a long shot at the start of the night and it is now an impossibility. Any chance Glasgow Warriors had of making it out of their European pool went up in smoke amid a flurry of unforced errors and lapses in discipline. Their three remaining games in this European Champions Cup campaign are now a series of dead rubbers. On paper, they can still qualify for the last eight – but rugby is not played on paper and the sequence of freak results required for that to happen is so unlikely that it is not even worth day-dreaming about.
Two yellow cards had a catastrophic effect on the team’s prospects. They conceded 21 points whilst short-handed due to the sinbinnings of George Turner and Jonny Gray, which left them short-handed for a crucial 20-minute spell straddling half time. Montpellier were hardly inspirational, but they are far too good a side to be handed that sort of leg-up in a match of this significance.
“The first one [yellow card] was dumb,” said Warriors coach Dave Rennie. “At 17-5 we had all the momentum, with a line-out on our ball 20 metres out, so that was telling. The second was Jonny trying to do his best to stop them from scoring and we’ve got no argument with the penalty try and the yellow-card. They scored 21-points while we had two guys in the bin and we lost by seven.”
“Equally frustrating was how frivolous we were on the ball. For the first 20-minutes we were pretty good but [after that] we just didn’t build any pressure – we’d go one or two phases and turn it over. We were chasing the game, it felt like, from the 45th minute. So, we just need to show a lot more composure and to hang onto the ball to build some pressure.”
The Frenchmen were also playing for their European lives, and they are right back in the mix, although they probably have to win all three of their remaining matches – starting with the return leg against the Warriors next Saturday.
“What we wanted was the five points and we scored the tries. Was it a polished performance? No, not really. We turned the ball over too quickly in the first 20, but as soon as we held it, we managed to score points,” said former Scotland coach Vern Cotter, who is now the man in charge at Montpellier.
“The yellow card probably freed things up for us and we managed to score. It was a tough game – the Warriors are a good team and they play with character – luckily we had enough ourselves to turn the ball over twice in the last five or six minutes to get the win.”
Finn Russell prodded the Warriors into an early lead with a Montpellier moved the ball swiftly left to create a mismatch on the left touch-line, and Kelian Galletier carried Russell over the line – although referee Matt Carly did have second thoughts about his original decision and belatedly went to the TMO before the try was finally confirmed.
Warriors bounced right back, helped along by a Montpellier mishandle which left the French scrabbling to tidy up a mess seven yards from their own line. A ferocious home counter-ruck earned a penalty and, rather than take the three points, Russell kicked to the corner. Then, off clean line-out ball, Ali Price fed Leonardo Sarto round the back of a Pete Horne dummy run, and the Italian stepped past Jan Serfontein and stretched across the chalk for the score.
The lead stretched to 12 points in the 23rd minute, when Warriors sent another goal-able penalty to the corner, and off another secure line-out they worked through a couple of sharp phases before Russell pulled off an exquisite scissors with Turner coming in from the wing on the short side. The hooker still had a bit to do but possesed the power and the determination to drive past a couple of flat-footed defenders for the score.
But hero turned to villain just a few minutes later when Turner shoulder-charged Louis Picamoles well off the ball and was yellow-carded for his troubles.
Montpellier pressed home their advantage, with Galletier grabbing his, and his team’s, second try not long later, by picking up at the base of a ruck – about 25 yards out and directly in front of the posts – then strolling through a non-existent defensive wall for an easy run-in.
It got even worse for Warriors in the final minute of the first half – just a few moments after Turner had returned to the fray – with Montpellier this time opting to kick a penalty to the corner, and then driving the line-out powerfully towards the scoring zone, before the maul was illegally brought down by Jonny Gray, surrendering not only a penalty try but also prompting another flash of yellow from the referee.
It took Montpellier the full ten minutes of Gray’s absence, but in the last play before the Scottish lock returned, his opposite number Jacques Du Plessis rumbled over from close range and got the ball down amid a pile of bodies, to secure the bonus point for the visitors.
It looked for all the world like this game – and therefore this European campaign – was drifting helplessly away from Glasgow. Then a moment of pure – and typically ??? – magic brought the contest back to life. A cross-field kick by Russell from deep inside his own 22, reached Sarto on the right wing with one bounce, allowing the Italian to break up field. Huw Jones appeared on his left shoulder to take the ball deep into Montpellier territory, before returning possession to Sarto to finish off a sensational 80 metre breakout score.
That, unfortunately for the Warriors, was as close as it got. With the error count continuing to debilitate their attacking ambitions, Montpellier got themselves back into striking range for Francois Steyn to drill home a simple penalty after a ruck offence in front of the posts. That made the deficit seven points with ten minutes to go.
In fairness to this Warriors team, they don’t know when they’re beat. They kept battling away to the end – but it was increasingly frantic – not the controlled chaos which the team thrives on when at their best.
Glasgow Warriors: R Jackson (H Immelman 56); L Sarto (C Fusaro 65), H Jones, S Johnson (G Horne 3), T Seymour; F Russell, A Price (G Horne 56); J Bhatti (A Allan 71), G Turner (J Malcolm 44), Z Fagerson (S Halanukonuka 48), S Cummings (K McDonald 71), J Gray, R Wilson, M Smith, S Vunisa (J Malcolm 29-39).
Montpellier: J Mogg; B Fall N’gandebe 49), F Steyn, J Serfontein, N Nadolo; A Cruden, E Sanga (B Paillaugue 44); M Nariashvili, B du Plessis, J Jonker (M Haouas 68), N van Rensburg, J du Plessis (K Mikautadze 73), K Galletier, J Bardy, L Picamoles (F Ouedraogo 27-33).
Warriors: Try: Sarto 2, Turner; Con: Russell 2; Pen: Russell.
Montpellier: Try: Galletier 2, Penalty Try, du Plessis; Con: Steyn 2; Pen: Steyn.
Scoring sequence (Warriors first): 3-0; 3-5; 8-5; 10-5; 15-5; 17-5; 17-10; 17-12; 17-19 (h-t) 17-24; 17-26; 22-26; 22-29
Yellow cards –
Warriors: Turner, Gray.
Referee: Matt Carling (England)