Glasgow Warriors 18
DAVID BARNES @ Scotstoun
IF the European dream is not completely dead and buried for Glasgow Warriors after two losses from two matches without so much as a bonus point to show for their toil, then it is in such a critical state that head coach Dave Rennie must now make a big decision about whether it is worth trying to resuscitate.
Rennie stated after last week’s defeat to Exeter Chiefs that you can’t afford to lose your first two games in the Champions Cup and expect to progress to the quearter-finals, so it was not a huge surprise to hear the New Zealander suggest afterwards that succeeding in the Guinness PRO14 this year might now become the priority.
“It’s clearly not where we want to be – it’s a tough pool as it is. We’ll reassess things based on that. Whether we end up prioritising the PRO14 ahead of this competition: we’ll make a decision in December [when the next round of European matches is due to be played],” he said.
The Glaswegians did, of course, qualify from their pool with a record of four wins and two losses last year, while Toulouse and Toulon went through with only three wins, so it is not yet a mathematical impossibility – but they also picked up a valuable losing bonus point, and in such a tough group it is going to take an awful lot of things to go very right for the Scots, and even more things to go dreadfully wrong for Leinster, the Chiefs and Montpellier if this campaign is going to be anything other than a painful learning experience for Rennie’s men.
The big lesson so far is that you are not going to get much joy against the best Europe has to offer unless you are able to fight fire with fire at the pit-face. Just as they were against the Chiefs last week, the Warriors were bullied up front – with Leinster’s first two tries coming from line-out drives.
“There’s not doubt that throughout Europe sides want to put you in the corner and drive so we’ve got a few things to sort out there,” agreed Rennie. “Obviously the penalty count is an issue because it gives teams the opportunity to get in there, and if you infringe then they get a few cracks at it before they go back and get another penalty, so we’re aware of that.”
“We’ve got some young men up front, they are learning quickly and working hard, and we’re confident we’ll bounce back from this – but we’ve got to learns some lessons,” he added, before pointing out that South African prop Oli Kebble and Kiwi second-row Brian Alainu’uese to come back from injury, and Tongan prop Siua Halanukonuka due to arrive once he finishes up with the Highlanders.
“We’ve got some depth there, and Zander Fagerson had a big shift today. It is an area we have to keep developing. The brutality is a massive part of the game over here so we need to go through the middle of sides, and we need to be able to defend teams who want to do that to us.”
Warriors fell behind to a second minute Johnny Sexton penalty before Stuart Hogg announced his return to action after four months out recovering from shoulder surgery by goose-stepping past Robbie Henshaw and then bouncing out of another tackle to make 30 yards up the right touch-line, which established the field position from which Russell was able to square the match with a successful shot at goal a few moments later.
The full-back went one better in the 16th minute, when Peter Horne’s delicate hands, Russell’s excellently weighted grubber kick and Tommy Seymour’s hack ahead, allowed Hogg to swoop in and ground the ball just before it bobbled over the Leinster dead-ball line.
The adrenalin was clearly pumping through the veins of the comeback kid as he thumped a super-human clearance so far down field a few minutes later that it bounced off the back of the pitch, allowing Leinster to come 80 yards back up field for a scrum. That fairly took the sting out of a scintillating spell for the home team, and also created the field position for Leinster to bounce right back into the game.
Leinster kicked a penalty to the corner, Cian Healy rumbled over and Sexton sent the conversion in off the post, and there was another set-back for the Warriors when they lost captain Ryan Wilson – who had already been off for 15 minutes getting treatment to a gash on his leg – and Tim Swinson at the same time after a clash of heads.
Swinson was able to return seven minutes later after passing an HIA but this was the last we saw of Wilson.
To their credit, the hosts initially made a pretty good fist of taking these set-backs in their stride in terms of possession and territory, although their sorties into enemy territory came to naught and Hogg missed a long range penalty.
Leinster, on the other hand, were ruthless when they next got a sniff – and it was the Warriors’ well-established failings up front which they ruthlessly exposed.
When a scrum fell apart on the Warriors ten-yard line with the half already in overtime, Sexton kicked the penalty to near the 22 and then watched his forwards rumble the line-out all the way to to the scoring zone, before Healy flopped over for his and his team’s second try of the afternoon, which made it 10-17 to the visitors at the break.
Leinster struck first in the second half with scrum-half Luke McGrath bouncing Adam Ashe to take play deep into Warriors territory, and then an exquisite pop out of contact from second-row Scott Fardy sent the looping Sexton under the posts unchallenged.
The Irish side were now in the hunt for not only a win away from home but also a bonus point which would put them in the driving seat in the race to finish top of the pool. The Scots, meanwhile, were fighting for their European lives, and they grasped a shot at redemption when a multi-phased attack culiminating in slick hands from Russell, Horne and Hogg sent Seymour over on the right. Russell couldn’t add the conversion.
Then Sam Johnson swept past Sexton off first phase ball and to launch a promising attack from inside his own 22, but the Irish stand-off showed the full extent of his competiveness to get back and not only make the cover tackle but also dislodge the ball in the process.
The Warriors were still battling but the mountain they needed to climb grew even higher when number eight Ashe limped off just after the hour mark, meaning Swinson had to switch to the back-row.
Russell narrowed the gap to six points with a penalty from in front of the posts after a Leinsterman waded through a ruck to disrupt possession, but that was a s close as the Warriros got.
Sexton helped himself to three points after being taken out off the ball by Horne; and all hope Warriors had of getting something out of this match was killed stone dead when Leinster centre Noel Reid stepped inside and slalomed through a wide open gate of half asleep Warriors on the way to grabbing a bonus point for his team.
Glasgow Warriors: S Hogg; T Seymour, S Johnson (68), P Horne (S Johnson 74), L Sarto (L Jones 60); F Russell, A Price (H Pyrgos 64); J Bhatti (A Allan 60), G Turner (P MacArthur 64), Z Fagerson (D Rae 77), T Swinson (S Cummings 25-32), J Gray, R Wilson (R Harley 8-23, 26), C Gibbins (G Turner 75), A Ashe (S Cummings 62)
Leinster: J Carbery; F McFadden, R Henshaw, N Reid, B Daly (D Kearey 41); J Sexton (R Byrne 68), L McGrath (J Gibson-Park 61); C Healy (J McGrath 49), S Cronin (J Tracy 49), T Furlong (M Bent 68), D Toner, S Fardy (J Ryan 54), R Ruddock, J van der Flier (D Leavy 49), J Conan.
Warriors: Try: Hogg, Seymour; Con: Russell; Pen: Russell 2.
Leinster: Try: Healy 2, Sexton, Reid; Con: Sexton 3, Bent; Pen: Sexton 2.
Scoring sequence (Warriors first): 0-3; 3-3; 8-3; 10-3; 10-8; 10-10; 10-15; 10-17 (h-t) 10-22; 10-24; 15-24; 18-24; 18-27; 18-32; 18-34.
Referee: J Garces (France)