A sparkling night in Paris to lift the gloom that had descended on the Warriors camp after 3 defeats on the bounce? Gregor Townsend certainly hoped so, with 6 internationals returning including Finn Russell and Simone Favaro. The Racing side read like a ‘who’s who’ of world rugby from the late naughties to the present, with Dan Carter starting alongside Juan Imhoff, Joe Rokokoko and our very own former Warrior Leone Nakarawa.
It was the All Black legend Carter who drew first blood in this encounter, with a sublime miss pass taking the whole Glasgow defence out of the equation. Imhoff touched down, Carter added the extras, and Glasgow looked in trouble having barely touched the ball.
Stuart Hogg looked uncomfortable in his positioning defensively for the majority of the game, and if we are being honest his chances of taking the Lions 15 shirt will really depend on how Gatland wants to approach the tests. Go out to win, Hogg is a shoe-in, Go out not to lose, then Halfpenny takes the shirt. Given Warren’s propensity towards ‘percentage rugby’ I fear Stuart might miss out yet again.
Anyway – enough doom and gloom! Glasgow finally got hold of the ball, and it is no exaggeration to say the there was a large chunk of the game from then when they were simply better man for man than their illustrious opponents. Finn Russell was at his magnificent best, directing play and keeping the Racing defence guessing. He also kicked very well, and 2 penalties brought the score back to 7-6 after 15 minutes.
The Warriors continued to press their opponents, and some incredible line speed, particularly from Favaro (including highlight of the day – Favaro smashing Dan Carter to force a turnover), ensured that the Warriors continued to play the game in the Racing half. Favaro was ably assisted by Zander Fagerson, the Scotland tighthead continuing his mercurial rise with another barnstorming performance in both attack and defence.
The key to unlocking the French defence was always going to be Russell, and the Scotland international delivered in style, delaying a pop pass until the very last moment before picking out Alex Dunbar on a ‘steam-train’ line in midfield. A beautiful try, and an excellent example of the quality and composure that Russell gives. Extras added, and Glasgow looked good for a 6 point lead.
The final play of the half saw Racing set up a driving maul on the Warriors 5m line. Last season the French scored 3 tries directly from this against Glasgow, but this year the Warriors defence was more than up to the task. Jonny Gray lead the way on this, with incredible workrate to get involved and disrupt every maul opportunity. The whole pack deserved plaudits for this, and also for the scrum which held firm on all occasions bar one.
Half-time: Racing 7-13 Glasgow
Glasgow started the second half no doubt expecting the Parisians to come flying back at them, but it was the Warriors who showed their quality and control over the game in the “championship minutes”. Ali Price had a cracking game at scrum half, and is well on his way to becoming first choice given Henry Pyrgos struggles with injury and form. The young 9 clearly knows his rule book as well, using the post protector as his friend to secure the Warriors second try after only 43 minutes. Russell again added an easy 2 points to stretch the Glasgow lead to 13
The French side rung wholesale changes at this point, with a complete front row revamp (plus Gerbrant Grobler for the dreadfully subdued Leone Nakarawa in the second row) but it was the Warriors who continued to threaten the scoreboard. Hogg missed wide to the right from a penalty attempt that was all of 55m, but Russell nailed the next attempt, which was a little closer, to stretch the Glasgow lead past the ‘2 converted scores’ mark with 15 minutes remaining. 7-23. History on the cards?
Racing finally got a grip of the game, but the Warriors defence was incredible, indicated by 9 turnovers and 124 successful tackles – 20 of which were from Jonny Gray. The pressure on the Glasgow line was mounting, and finally Carter was able to skip past a couple of tired Warriors defenders to score. Funnily enough he was able to make his conversion in 15 seconds, instead of the usual 100, giving his side a further 7 minutes to score twice.
What should have been a nail biting few minutes for Warriors fans turned out to be fairly relaxed, with the experienced squad playing down the clock, making their tackles and shutting out the game. No panic, no mistakes, and a famous win. Amazing the difference having the 1st XV available makes.
Not the perfect performance, but not far off. Glasgow from 1-23 were outstanding. I had mentioned to our own Gav Harper that i thought this was the make or break game of the Glasgow season, so here is hoping!
FT – Racing 14 – 23 Glasgow
Referee: JP Doyle (RFU)
SRBlog Man of the Match: Pick your Warrior here? Finn Russell got the sponsors award, and he was outstanding. I also thought Favaro, Gray or Price could have been in contention, but my pick for the award is Zander Fagerson, who was brilliant in the loose, solid in the scrum and excellent in defence. How long before the French megabucks owners are sniffing around for a 20 year old tighthead with potential to go right to the top of the game?