Glasgow Warriors were left to rue errors at key moments at Scotstoun this evening, as a late fightback was not enough to deny La Rochelle a 38-30 win over Danny Wilson’s men.
The Warriors must now rely on results around Europe tomorrow, as they wait to see if their tally of five points will be enough to book a spot in the last-16 of the Heineken Champions Cup.
Right from the opening kick-off, Glasgow’s defence was pressed into service in the face of an early attacking onslaught from last season’s runners-up. A rolling maul was bound for the try-line until Fraser Brown’s intervention, one that saw the Glasgow captain shown a yellow card with just five minutes played.
Yet a huge early defensive shift from the home side, spearheaded by the pack, kept La Rochelle at bay; indeed, it would be the Warriors who would open the scoring despite their numerical disadvantage. With La Rochelle penalised for going offside in midfield, Ross Thompson remained ice-cool to give the hosts a 3-0 lead in front of the East Stand.
It would be a short-lived lead, however. After Pierre Popelin cancelled out Thompson’s effort with a penalty of his own to level the scores, the visitors would cross for the opening try of the night with 20 minutes on the clock. Relentless pressure inside the Glasgow 22 saw the Warriors defence stretched to breaking point, with Raymond Rhule the man to reach out and ground the ball in the corner. Popelin converted well from the touchline, and the visitors led 10-3.
Roared on by the returning Warrior Nation, Glasgow wasted no time in cutting the deficit. A blinding line from Sam Johnson off the tail of a lineout set the Warriors on the front foot, forcing La Rochelle to infringe at the breakdown. From 15 metres, Thompson made no mistake, bringing his side within a try.
The Glasgow fly-half reduced the gap even further on 33 minutes, punishing an over-eager La Rochelle kick-chase from the visitors’ 22 to make it a one-point game. It could have been even better for the Warriors with just five minutes to go in the half, as both Josh McKay and Jack Dempsey brought the crowd to their feet as they went in search of Glasgow’s opening try.
La Rochelle would have the final word in a frenetic first-half, however, crossing for the second try on the stroke of half-time. Paul Boudehent would be the man driven over from a well-executed shift drive, Popelin pushing the conversion wide to leave the score at 15-9 in favour of the visitors at the break.
If the first-half had been one of frustration in attack for Glasgow, though, the second began in the perfect fashion. A powerful carry from Matt Fagerson on halfway put the Warriors on the front foot, before Thompson was sent through a gap by a perfectly-timed pass out the back. The fly-half picked out a beautiful pass to McKay and the New Zealander was not to be stopped, finishing superbly on the outside arc to send the Scotstoun crowd into delirium. Thompson added the extras, and the home side led by a point a minute into the second stanza.
Once again, though, it’d be a short-lived advantage. Back came the visitors once more, with Pierre Bourgarit crossing after breaking a tackle and trundling home from ten metres. Popelin’s conversion made it a six-point game, before adding a penalty to give La Rochelle a 25-16 lead with half an hour to play.
Momentum was with the visitors, and this was evident in the try that sealed the bonus-point for the French side. A loose pass in midfield from Glasgow was hacked downfield by Brice Dulin, with Thompson getting back well to compete for the ball. A secondary hack from Dulin was mis-cued, only to bounced perfectly into the path of Pierre Boudehent. The winger duly crossed untouched, Popelin converting to take the score to 32-16.
Another penalty from Popelin had seemingly put the game beyond the Warriors, but Danny Wilson’s men had other ideas. With the Warrior Nation rallying behind their troops, it would be Glasgow who would be finishing on the front foot. Repeated indiscretions from the visitors saw first Dillian Leyds, then Gregory Alldritt dispatched to the sin bin, with the noise from the home crowd rising in expectation.
The Warriors weren’t to be denied, with their second try of the night arriving with six minutes to play. With two men to spare and a scrum marmalising the opposition, it would be the simplest of tasks for George Horne to feed Ollie Smith on the angle for the full-back to dive over on his European debut for his first try in Glasgow colours. Duncan Weir, on for Thompson, converted, and the Warriors were going in search of a valuable losing bonus-point at least.
A 78th minute penalty from Ihaia West would ultimately deny the Warriors any reward, but the home side would not go quietly into the Glasgow night. It would be Smith again who would make it a double, diving on a loose ball to get the crucial touch. Weir would once again convert, but the clock would beat the Warriors in their pursuit of bonus-points.
Instead, Wilson’s men must now await the results from Montpellier’s clash with Exeter and Sale’s meeting with the Ospreys. Wins for both English sides, and a last-16 place will still be Glasgow’s.
Kick-off 8:00 pm