Glasgow Warriors battled their way to a losing bonus-point in La Rochelle this afternoon, despite ultimately being edged out 20-13 by their hosts at the Stade Marcel Deflandre.
Danny Wilson’s men made the French outfit work for their victory, Kyle Steyn’s try and Ross Thompson’s kicking having put the Warriors in front with half an hour to play.
Knowing the importance of starting strongly, the Warriors duly delivered by showing early endeavour with ball in hand. Strong carrying from Jack Dempsey and Sione Tuipulotu, allied to some canny kicking from Thompson and Josh McKay, had the visitors on the front foot early on.
That endeavour was eventually rewarded with six minutes on the clock, as another powerful carry from Dempsey was halted illegally by a La Rochelle defender coming in from the side. Thompson made no mistake from straight in front of the posts 35 metres out, giving the Warriors a 3-0 lead.
The advantage was doubled just seven minutes later, as once again Glasgow’s attack drew the penalty from their hosts. Slick handling from Sam Johnson and Tuipulotu sent Steyn through a gap, before the ball was recycled to put Scott Cummings clear. Whilst the second-rower was dragged down short, referee Matt Carley had spotted an offside defender in midfield, with Thompson making no mistake from the tee.
Glasgow looked in the mood to keep themselves on the front foot, with Josh McKay in particular looking lively with ball in hand. If it wasn’t the quicksilver backs, it was the power of the pack, with Oli Kebble and Cummings putting their hands up time and time again.
Yet not for nothing were La Rochelle runners-up in last season’s competition. Almost out of nothing, the hosts showed what they could do on 21 minutes, excellent interplay from Victor Vito sending Jonathan Danty away. Were it not for the defensive nous of Thompson and Johnson, the hosts would have been celebrating a free-flowing score.
There was no denying the home side on the half-hour mark, though, as La Rochelle did indeed cross for the game’s opening try. Advantage in hand, a chip and chase from Brice Dulin got the home side in behind the defence, with Glasgow scrambling to keep them out at the expense of a penalty. From the kick to touch, Reda Wardi was driven over for the score, Ihaia West converting for a 7-6 lead.
It could have been a double blow for the Warriors if it wasn’t for the effort of Thompson just two minutes later, the fly-half cutting down a charging Paul Boudehent to deny the hosts a second try. As it was, West extended his side’s advantage with 90 seconds of the half remaining, the fly-half knocking over a penalty from 45 metres to take the half-time score to 10-6.
The back-and-forth nature of the match continued in the opening exchanges of the second stanza, with both sides showing their willingness to have a go. The first clear cut chance of the half went the way of the hosts, only for West to miss a penalty from inside his own half with 46 minutes played.
Straight from the restart, the Warriors grabbed the initiative. A rip from Richie Gray saw Zander Fagerson feed brother Matt, with the back-rower charging into the La Rochelle 22 with a piston-like fend keeping defenders at bay.
It was from that initial surge that Glasgow struck. With La Rochelle conceding a second penalty after a five-metre tap and go from George Turner, Ali Price deftly chipped the ball wide for Steyn, the winger finishing superbly despite the attentions of several La Rochelle defenders. Thompson added the extras from out wide, and Glasgow led 13-10 with half an hour to play.
Back came the home side, however, with renewed intent to stamp their authority on affairs. A powerful rolling maul forced Rory Darge into collapsing the drive illegally, being sent to the sin-bin by referee Carley.
It took just three minutes for La Rochelle to make their numerical advantage count, restoring their lead in harem-scarem fashion. Advantage in hand, a series of passes flung wide almost saw Cole Forbes collect the interception, only for the ball to be recycled for Enriko Buliruarua to dive over in the corner. West added the extras, before extending the hosts’ lead to 20-13 with a penalty on 61 minutes.
The French outfit were now firmly on top, relentless in their pursuit of another score. Yet the Warriors defensive line held firm to a man, with Ally Miller earning a crucial lineout steal and Darge proving a menace at the breakdown.
Despite the best efforts of the Warriors, though, a famous draw would elude Danny Wilson’s men. A losing bonus-point was the least their efforts deserved, however, with attentions now turning to the round two clash with Exeter at Scotstoun next Saturday afternoon.
Kick-off 5:30 pm