Glasgow Warriors 19-28 Northampton Saints
Glasgow Warriors fell to defeat in the opening match of the 2023/24 Invest Champions Cup this evening, as Northampton Saints earned a 28-19 victory on a sodden night at Scotstoun.
Tries from Sebastian Cancelliere and Ollie Smith, alongside a penalty try for the second successive match, would prove in vain, as Glasgow emerged empty-handed from their opening European clash of the season.
The night started brightly for the Warriors, with Scotstoun brought to its feet just four minutes into proceedings by a piece of typically sharp Argentinian thinking. Picking off a loose pass from Alex Mitchell, Cancelliere’s pace would see him outstrip the covering defence to score, and whilst Tom Jordan’s conversion attempt drifted wide the Warrior Nation were in full voice.
Yet the visitors responded in kind with 13 minutes on the clock, as Phil Dowson’s men hit back with an opening try of their own. Slick handling would see the Saints work an overlap in the wide channels, Courtney Lawes applying the finishing touch by riding the cover tackle of Sean Kennedy to touch down. Fin Smith added the extras, giving Northampton a 7-5 lead.
Smith would extend the lead with a penalty just three minutes later, with the Saints now enjoying the upper hand. Sustained phases inside the Glasgow 22 would eventually allow Tommy Freeman to finish out wide, Smith’s conversion drifting wide to leave it a 10-point margin.
With Scott Cummings in the sin-bin after a harsh penalty concession at the lineout, Northampton would strike for a third on the half-hour mark. Freeman again would be the beneficiary, finishing off a move that began with Mitchell dummying and breaking from halfway up to the 22. This time Smith would add the extras, taking the score to 22-5 in favour of the visitors.
Glasgow needed a response, and it almost arrived with five minutes left in the half. Once more Cancelliere was the catalyst, this time picking off Smith and setting his sights on the corner. Only George Hendy could keep pace with the Argentinian, with Huw Jones agonisingly close to collecting what would have been a scoring offload from the winger.
A superb turnover under his own posts from Rory Darge on the stroke of half-time would keep the scoreline at unchanged before the interval, as Glasgow continued to search for the next score. It would be Northampton that would be next to trouble the scorers, however, Smith once again unerring from the tee to make it 25-5 with 48 minutes gone.
Another penalty from the boot of Smith, this time from 45 metres, would extend the lead yet further as the game entered the final quarter, with the Warrior Nation urging their team forward in pursuit of a route back into the match. With 12 minutes remaining, Franco Smith’s men finally found the breakthrough they were looking for. Josh McKay and Stafford McDowall’s identification of space was pinpoint as they counter-attacked from a Northampton clearing kick, spinning the ball to Smith out wide. The winger still had a stack of work to do when receiving the ball on halfway, but the flyer showed outstanding pace and patience to chip, chase, regather and touch down in the corner under pressure. Ross Thompson, introduced off the bench, added the extras, and Glasgow voices were raising their volume.
There was almost a second score in as many minutes for Smith to celebrate, as Glasgow went from end to end in search of their third try. Cancelliere’s break and offload allowed McKay to break up to Northampton’s 22, before the ball was spun wide to Smith once more. This time, however, the Northampton defence would scramble just in time, the chance going begging in front of the West Stand.
A third try would be forthcoming with three minutes to go, though. Successive penalties allowed Thompson to steer his side to within five metres, and from there the maul would be too powerful to stop legally. An illegal sacking saw referee Luc Ramos head under the posts to award a penalty try, as the Warriors went in search of a fourth try to claim both an attacking and losing bonus-point.
Despite the home side’s best efforts, however, there would be no final riposte from those in black. One final attack would see Cancelliere smothered into touch just yards from the line, cueing elation from the travelling players and support.
Opening night disappointment for the Scotstoun faithful, then, yet their team will have an immediate chance to bounce back; a first-ever meeting with Bayonne awaits next Friday night in France, as the Warriors look to kick-start their European campaign.