Glasgow Warriors sent a statement around the Heineken Champions Cup this evening, turning in a complete performance to secure a 22-7 victory over Exeter Chiefs on another famous European night at Scotstoun.
15 points from the boot of Ross Thompson and Johnny Matthews’ first try in Europe’s premier club competition sealed the deal for the home side, giving the Warrior Nation the perfect early Christmas present.
With the December fog enveloping Scotstoun from the outset, it was the Warriors who made the more industrious start under the floodlights. An early burst from Jack Dempsey through the middle of a ruck got the home side up and running, with Cole Forbes and Josh McKay looking assured under the early high ball.
The opening points of the night arrived with 12 minutes on the clock, and they went the way of the Warriors. A set play worked to perfection took Sione Tuipulotu in behind, with Exeter going offside as they sought to cease Glasgow’s follow-up carrying. Thompson made no mistake from 10 metres, and the hosts had a 3-0 lead.
The Glasgow back-three were looking lively across the field; McKay’s pace and footwork took him away from the Exeter defence on more than one occasion, whilst the kick-chase and breakdown work of Kyle Steyn kept the Warriors on the front foot.
As the English heavyweights grew into proceedings, so did the Glasgow defence. Time and again the Warriors shut down their visitors; Thompson was just inches away from an interception that would have seen him run in unopposed, whilst a resolute shift from the Glasgow defensive line earning a turnover penalty in the shadow of their own posts to a roar from the Warrior Nation.
Instead, it would be the hosts that would come closest to adding to their lead with the final meaningful play of the half. A powerful maul in midfield saw George Turner peel away and race for the line from the Exeter 22, only to be felled three metres short to leave the half-time score at 3-0 to the home side.
With the fog showing no sign of lifting as the second half got underway, it was once again the Warriors who came out of the changing rooms firing. Tuipulotu in particular was causing all manner of havoc for the Exeter defence, breaking the line twice in the opening three minutes of the half whilst also sending Matt Fagerson on a rampage down the wing.
Whilst Thompson was unable to convert that early endeavour into points after rattling the upright with a penalty, the fly-half made amends on 48 minutes. Through the murky evening sky, the youngster’s strike was clean from 40 metres, and the lead was now 6-0.
A third successful kick duly followed just five minutes later; against the head, the Glasgow scrum went to work on their opponents, Thompson as cool as you like from the tee to add the three points from the resulting penalty.
The Warrior Nation was in full voice, with every effort from their team ratcheting the noise up another level. A midfield carry from Dempsey, a turnover won by Sam Johnson, a scrum penalty earned by the pack – all roared to the rafters by the Scotstoun faithful.
At the centre of it all, though, Thompson remained composed. When presented with an opportunity to add another three points on the hour mark, the fly-half delivered, nailing a penalty from 40 metres to extend the lead to 12-0.
Almost with their first attack of the half, however, Exeter struck for the opening try of the night with just 10 minutes remaining. Despite the best efforts of the Glasgow defence on their own line Jack Yeandle somehow found a way over the whitewash, Joe Simmonds adding the extras to narrow the deficit to just five points.
Yet the home side were not to be denied. Thompson’s fifth successful penalty of the night restored Glasgow’s two-score lead, and then came the coup de grace. Presented with a five-metre lineout, the Warriors nailed the drill to perfection. Matthews’ throw found the soaring Dempsey at the tail, before a maul was roared over the whitewash by a sold-out Scotstoun to seal the win. It was Matthews who emerged with the ball, Duncan Weir’s conversion with the last kick of the match adding the well-deserved gloss to the score-line.
It was Glasgow’s night. It was the Warrior Nations night. It was another famous Champions Cup night in Glasgow’s west end.
Kick-off 5:30 pm