Finn Russell’s kick-off went straight into touch for an inauspicious start to Glasgow’s European campaign, but the Scotland fly-half soon found his range, first knocking over a penalty, then floating a cross-kick toward Tommy Seymour when Glasgow had the advantage deep in Exeter’s half. The winger leapt above Exeter full-back Phil Dollman, and with Russell’s conversion, his 21st successful goal-kick from 22 attempts this season, Glasgow were 10-0 up with 10 minutes played. It was looking good.
It was looking good.
Glasgow’s silver-lined start came with its own cloud, however, as after Russell’s penalty, Fraser Brown seemed to injure himself when turning to run back into the action following Exeter fly-half Gareth Steenson’s restart. Innocuous as it appeared with no-one else near him at the time, the recently returned international hooker looks set for another spell on the sidelines. George Turner was brought straight into the fray for his first taste of Champions Cup rugby, and it was going to be a long old night for the on-loan hooker.
From the restart, Exeter were rather fortuitously awarded a scrum for an alleged knock-on by Tim Swinson, even though the ball seemed to go backwards off an Exeter arm before reaching Swinson, and the reigning English champions took full advantage. They drove and drove at the Glasgow line, their patience eventually rewarded when Harry Williams broke through the Warriors’ resilient defence.
The home side had the bit between their teeth now, with their forwards rumbling over the gain-line and squeezing every last centimetre of territory out of every carry, keeping Glasgow pinned back, until giant, peroxide blonde lock (who does he think he is? Richie Gray?) Jonny Hill also scored from close range.
Both sides may be known for their expansive, free-scoring styles of play, but with the drizzle coming down, the handling mistakes – which we’ve seen a bit too often from the Warriors so far this season – crept back into play as they hit the “Gamble” button once too often. Defences held out for the remainder of the half, and the home-side went in at the break of a pulsating first 40 minutes with a 4-point advantage.
Half-time: Exeter Chiefs 14 -10 Glasgow Warriors
Gareth Steenson’s boot put Exeter a converted score ahead, but with the second half only 4 minutes old, that man Finn Russell was involved again as Glasgow closed the gap. They won turnover ball in Exeter’s half through a combination of Callum Gibbins, who once again put in a lung-bursting performance, and Tim Swinson, who played the ball off the floor to Price. The ball was moved left, Russell weighted a grubber kick toward the try-line and set off in pursuit, with Exeter scrum-half Nic White just ahead of him. White made a hash of gathering the ball, which allowed Lee Jones to sneak in and apply downward pressure on the ball to move Glasgow within 2 points. The try was allowed to stand after TMO review, despite Exeter’s protestations that Russell had taken White out of the game when not in possession. The officials decided that Russell had committed to the tackle before White had cocked it up. Russell in turn missed the difficult touch-line conversion, but with the gap now to within drop-goal or penalty range and 35mins still to play, Glasgow were well in this game.
It seems somewhat remarkable then, that given the ebb and flow of the match and the much vaunted attacking prowess of both sides, we had to wait over half an hour for the next points. Steenson had struck the upright with a penalty attempt, but neither sets of backs were allowed to get going as an immensely physical and draining contest wore on. And with only a couple of minutes remaining, Exeter extinguished any hopes Glasgow had of taking anything from the contest.
It was a case of the old adage “if it ain’t broke”, as once again the Chiefs showed patience, resilience and nous, to grind out the clinching score from right on top of Glasgow’s try-line, highly rated back-rower Sam Simmonds the man to benefit from his fellow pack members pick and drive.
The game ended on a somewhat controversial note as French referee Alexandre Ruiz raised his arm aloft and signalled an advantage to Glasgow, so Finn Russell subsequently launched an ambitious looping pass which was spilled, and the referee blew for full-time, denying Glasgow the chance of looking for a losing BP. Seemingly, Monsieur Ruiz had in fact called advantage for a knock-on, so the game ended on somewhat of a whimper.
It wasn’t a terrible performance from Glasgow, the “Project Chaos” style that Dave Rennie has instilled will always produce errors, but as we also saw against Cardiff a few weeks ago, if it’s not clicking, perhaps a more measured approach is required. Glasgow got away with it in the Arms Park because Cardiff blew it, here, against the reigning Premiership champions at Europe’s top table, they came unstuck.
The sight of Glasgow being out-muscled by gargantuan French and English packs in this tournament was the status quo over the majority of the last few seasons, so head coach Rennie – who has spoken about a desire to go up the middle as well as wide – will have to devise another strategy to qualm that particular (heart) burning issue.
Referee: Alexandre Ruiz (FRU)
SRBlog Man of the Match: From a Glasgow perspective, I’ll plump for Ruairidh Jackson. His recent good form continued, as he carried for 89m in trying to spark Glasgow into life from deep. Jonny Gray, unsurprisingly, also missed no tackles from 14 attempted, as he searches for match sharpness. George Turner also put in a pretty good shift after having to come on early for Fraser Brown.