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Toulon 51-28 Glasgow

Ruaridh Jackson - pic © Al Ross
Ruaridh Jackson - pic © Al Ross

Glasgow would find a lot to admire in Toulon, a fiery home support for a solid base of local players and some international talent. If perhaps the raft of galacticos is not something Townsend would aspire to, there is plenty else in the former shipbuilding town that Glasgow could pay attention to. They even seem to have some sort of haka chant.

Glasgow took the field in sunny Toulon as massive underdogs against Bernard Laporte’s side, and the opening exchanges were high tempo and fierce.

Livewire Niko Matawalu showed he had come to compete early on with a length of the field effort chalked off for a cheeky knock on that he somehow managed to make look like an interception.

That gave the smattering of Glasgow fans hope but Jonny Wilkinson reminded them soon after what a trial lay ahead for Glasgow. The Englishman took a penalty kick to open the scoring then minutes later he set the Toulon attack flying with a leaping interception that set free Giteau, Mermoz and Armitage for a stunning try.

Glasgow responded gamely but pressure over the tackle was immense from Toulon’s defence. Strauss usually never fails to make ground but Bakkies Botha et al were yielding little either with or without ball. Their handling and awareness out wide was fantastic with Matt Giteau’s offloading creating a second try for Mermoz this time, although there was a hint of the forward in the final diving pass.

17 minutes gone, 17-0 to Toulon.

It was bad news in the set piece too for Glasgow with Welsh in particular given a torrid time and huge power coming through as soon as the ball was in. But this unit is not like anything many of these Glasgow players would have faced, even those that have played at international level. Of course it is the same all over the pitch and the constant threat had Glasgow’s defensive alignment looking shoogly.

Toulon could seemingly do anything they wanted. Massive touchfinders? Check. Offloads out the back door? Quick line-outs? Check. Pick and drive try? Check. Needless to say, Wilkinson was kicking all his goals too.

In short, it was disarray for Glasgow and they were unable to impose themselves at all in the first half. Any ball they did have was fumbled, or kicked away. Matawalu is always mercurial but can be rash if things aren’t working for him. Giving away a penalty for putting a fumbled ball over the hoarding was hardly constructive, even if it was just used as some goal-kicking practice for Delon Armitage. Wilkinson went off injured and Freddie Michalak came on.

When Dunbar went off with an injury they lost a key midfield lynchpin and Mermoz took advantage for his second try and the bonus point.

This wasn’t a fighting rearguard, it was damage limitation.

HT Toulon 34-0 Glasgow

Glasgow came out firing in the second half though, after a few wobbly passes Bennett and McGuigan combined in behind the Toulon defensive line and DTH Van Der Merwe found it surprisingly easy to get over for Glasgow’s first points.

It wasn’t a lack of heart – it never is – but they looked occasionally naive in the first half and a talking to sorted their attitude a little bit with an increase in intensity. Strauss and Swinson suddenly were able to make ground and Matuwalu wasted less ball when he didn’t have to go looking for it as a 9.

Of course Toulon were soon back in the Glasgow half and frustration caused Mark Bennett to hold on to Michalak’s leg unnecessarily after they had disentangled. Toulon chose the line-out and it was refreshing to see Glasgow making them at least work for the next try, but Giteau still waltzed through the defence when the quick ball moved past the forwards.

More of the same? Luckily, no.

Glasgow were chasing a lost cause but Jackson found some space through the midfield and Matawalu was on hand to get them a second try. It was a giant game of sevens but McGuigan and Matawalu love that stuff probably more than Danie Roussouw or Carl Hayman. The scoreboard was still forlorn to look at, but Glasgow had at least turned up.

There was more to come as Seymour – who had been quiet until then – burst through a gap and fed Kalman who delayed his pass nicely to pop it up to the marauding Jonny Gray. Jackson converted to make it 41-21. A losing try bonus became a distinct possibility, if Toulon could keep their foot off the gas a bit longer.

Matawalu had been the clear threat since moving to 9 and defenders chasing him was creating space for the others to pop into. Jackson, Maitland and Bennett suddenly found holes that simply hadn’t been there before, and DTH capitalised as he does so well. His second try came on 63 minutes: Glasgow had a bonus point, and considering Toulon had apparently only conceded 7 tries this season in the Top 14, they looked a little porous.

Michalak kicked a penalty to keep the margin three scores but at 44-28 the home crowd were getting testy. It was breathless entertainment.

Glasgow, to their credit, had turned the game from embarrassment to rugby spectacle.

Lamont and Hogg were out injured, but they perhaps missed the level head of Chris Cusiter early on, and Swinson  playing at blindside may have been an experiment that bulked up the pack but kept out the powerful Rob Harley.


Perhaps a little wounded in the pride stakes, Toulon reimposed their dominance for the last five minutes as Glasgow tired and their bench ran out of forwards. Giteau made the most of a straggling defence to get the game’s final try and reassure the home fans they hadn’t given up.

In the end Glasgow emerged with the respect they deserved, but they will need to learn to contain the opening salvos from these powerful teams to give themselves a chance.

They’ll also need to remember they have salvos of their own to fire too.

SRBlog Man of the Match: Probably Matawalu, as usual but only in the second half. Toulon treated him as a threat but ignored the rest, to their cost. A rash penalty aside, young Bennett was very impressive at this level and Jonny Gray looked similarly comfortable at this level.

16 Responses

  1. I thought that putting arguably your best and most influential player on the wing was a bad call. Starting Matawalu where he belongs would have meant DTH starting from the beginning as well. Just get the best team out with players in their strongest positions ,hopefully we see that this sunday.

  2. I have to agree with you on that one Ian. I guess Townsend was expecting the team’s failure to front up to the onslaught of the first half and had a – solid defensive first half; open attacking second half – game plan in mind. However, when you’re playing the HC holders you should really go with your best team/strategy from the off and that is Matawalu at 9 and DTH on the wing. Still an excellent second half performance and I’m sure it’s been an excellent learning experience that will stand them in good stead.

    1. I think he was trying to shoe-horn Pyrgos in as the kicker.

      I don’t think Jackson is trusted to kick anymore and with Hogg out, Weir just back from injury, and Pyrgos kicking well against Zebre it seems it makes him a likely started for tight games. Which is a shame as he is easily the worst out of Nico, Cus and him.

  3. What is the deal with Jackson as a kicker – he’s no Chris Paterson, but he has kicked in enough high pressure games for Scotland and Glasgow and done well enough.

    Don’t understand why he’s suddenly not trusted at all – if he has ambitions to make the Scottish 10 shirt his own, he should be stepping up surely.

    Don’t get it.

    1. There seems to be a pattern emerging and not just at Edinburgh and Glasgow that the stand off has enough to worry about without adding the “burden” of taking the place kicks as well. In fact there seems to be a growing trend to take the pressure off 10s whether that’s the use of a second ‘stand off’ playing at 12 or someone else not just taking place kicks but going for drop goals as well. Whether its a matter of confidence (either coach or player) or something else who knows but I can understand trying to make a young player’s transition to top flight rugby as easy as possible.

      Remember the 97 Lions took Neil Jenkins to SA after his performances at 10 for Wales but played him at 15 just to have a highly reliable place kicker on the pitch! And who was the 10 for the first two Test? Toony.

  4. I do think Cusiter was missed in the first half especially when they looked a little like headless chickens. And Niko had a hand in two soft tries. It’s a problem as when Glasgow aren’t able to play Matawalu tends to go looking for work, a little less successfully than say Tim Visser or Sean Maitland. But when they are able to get the ball moving at pace you wouldn’t want anyone else in the team!

  5. Hi guys, interesting comments on Glasgow’s scrum half choice. To go back to my earlier comment I think the opposition would be far more concerned seeing Matawalu starting at 9 than Cusiter or Pyrgos. Townsend knows that he is a talisman and one of Glasgow’s best players that’s why he finds a space for him on the wing – but at the expense of DTH who is on fire! But good point about the kickers at the moment and I agree that Jackson should be relied on to at least get all the simple ones and at least 50% of the touchline kicks. So it should be Matawalu and Jackson to start and the coaching staff to spend more time with Pyrgos with ball in hand and not off the tee.

  6. well, Ian, it looks like your (and many others’) wish has come true with Matawalu starting at 9 and DTH on the wing!

  7. Aye, interesting squad selection. I’m not sure about Ascarte and McGuigan starting in the centres and Holmes instead of Fusaro. I guess with Dunbar injured and Bennett having had a fair bit of rugby this season GT might not have had his hand forced a bit. Nevertheless it’s a bit of an untested partnership going into a big game. Team looks pretty good otherwise. Good luck to Glasgow.

  8. Well I just hope it all comes together because this is a must win simple as that. Probably one of the most important games Glasgow will play. A win would be great – a bonus point just that. The scrum needs to be back to it’s best after getting a mauling last week and I also hope this midfield pairing works. If GT is tinkering again we’re in trouble but this pairing could work – McGuigan is looking good at least. Looking forward to Sunday afternoon, hope both games are being shown.

    1. Ascarate is now being played in his preferred position. He is an out and out 12 with an eye for a gap and preference for big, low tackles. If McGuigan is as sharp as he has been this season so far then this should be a great partnership (providing McGuigan’s tackle stats have improved). I didn’t realize until today but I am actually not concerned about the Centre partnership….very much looking forward to seeing it in action. No point in having the likes of DTH and Seymour on the wings and Maitland as fullback if your 13 has problems passing the ball. That is part of the reason I am happy for Bennett to come on from the bench. Although I suspect he is benched more for rest than anything else.

  9. Aye it’s a really big one for Glasgow. I suppose expectations are considerably lower for Edinburgh, but (as an Edinburgh fan) I really hope they can put in another good performance and hopefully come away with something. Apparently their defensive stats were the best of any team in round 1, which is quite a turn around. Du Preez made 18 tackles and missed none. Having Harley back is great for Glasgow as he tackles everything in sight all day long. Agree about Ascarte, what I’ve seen so far looks good. Edinburgh game is on the red button, no broadcast at all scheduled for Glasgow as yet, which would be shocking.

  10. Thanks Matt, agree that no Glasgow broadcast would be a disaster and astonishing as it could be one of the games of round 2.
    Good observations about the new centre partnership Mako just hope that the potential is realised. I really like Bennett and he is a genuine prospect so more competition the better for him.
    I support both Glasgow and Edinburgh so hope both teams play to their ability and get the wins

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