Glasgow Warriors 31-21 Emirates Lions
A titanic defensive shift sent Glasgow Warriors into a European semi-final for the first time in the club’s history this evening, after Franco Smith’s squad overpowered the Emirates Lions to claim a 31-21 victory at Scotstoun in the EPCR Challenge Cup quarter-finals.
Tries from Jack Dempsey, Jamie Dobie, Zander Fagerson and Tom Jordan, allied to 11 points from the boot of George Horne and a Player of the Match-winning performance from Rory Darge, sent the Warriors into the final four to set up a semi-final clash with the Scarlets in three weeks time.
In a match of high stakes, the opening exchanges saw both sides fight hard for every scrap of possession. Domingo Miotti was the first to raise the volume levels inside Scotstoun, the Argentinian’s link-up with Horne taking the home side into the Lions 22 before a lengthy stoppage due to a head injury for Rabz Maxwane.
From the restart, the Warriors would strike. Sione Tuipulotu’s strong carry would force the Lions to concede the penalty, and from the resulting set-piece a superbly-timed offload from the centre would send Dempsey barging over in front of the East Stand. Horne would convert, and the hosts led 7-0 after 10 minutes of play.
Buoyed by the early score, Glasgow were beginning to find their groove with ball in ha.d Brilliant work by Kyle Steyn in the air earned his side quick ball, from which Huw Jones sent Jamie Dobie racing clear. His chip ahead would have sent Horne over were it not for the cruellest of bounces, and the visitors would survive.
It would be a temporary reprieve, however. With advantage in hand, a superb delayed ball from Tuipulotu would send Miotti racing around the back, before quick hands from Ollie Smith sent Dobie haring over the whitewash for an excellently-worked score. Horne added the extras and the hosts were up 14-0 at the end of the opening quarter.
Stirred into life, the Lions set about looking to restore a foothold in proceedings. The Glasgow defensive line was resolute, however, Rory Darge and Richie Gray to the fore for Franco Smith’s men.
In a first half lasting over an hour due to stoppages and strong ball retention from both teams, there would be no breaching the Glasgow defence. Even when Sonele Nohamba thought he’d managed to evade the Warriors defence, a double-movement would see the Television Match Official chalk off the score, allowing Miotti to send the ball to touch and bring the curtain down on a first half packed with physicality.
There would be no denying Nohamba just three minutes into the second half, however, as the scrum-half caught the Warriors flat-footed with a quick tap penalty to dart over from 15 metres for the visitors’ opening score. He would convert his own try for good measure, narrowing the gap to 14-7 as the home crowd urged their team forward in response.
That response would be near-immediate. Dobie’s chip and chase from turnover ball and Richie Gray’s chargedown pinned the Lions on their own five-metre line, before a lineout steal from Gray put the Warriors just inches from the line. Fagerson would be the man to make the final metre and barge his way over the whitewash, Horne converting to re-establish the 14-point buffer.
Once more, the Warriors defence would stand tall in the face of a South African onslaught. Darge and Dempsey would meet their challengers full-on carry after carry, with Tuipulotu and Huw Jones marshalling the midfield superbly.
Made to work for every yard, the Lions would eventually find a way through the defensive line on 65 minutes. It would be the province’s top try-scorer in the 2022/23 campaign that would be the one to breach the black wall, Francke Horn showing just enough power and strength to hold off the tackle of Darge and ground the ball. Nohamba converted, and the match was back to a one-score game once again.
Glasgow pragmatism would take centre stage moments later, though, as a scrum penalty would give Horne the chance to extend the lead into double-figures. The scrum-half was deadeye in his aim from 40 metres, taking the score to 24-14 with 12 minutes left to play.
The Warrior Nation were roaring their side on in search of a score that would secure a place in the final four, and that score would arrive five minutes from time. Phase after phase inside Lions territory saw the defence stretched to breaking point, with Smith drawing the last man to put Tom Jordan over in front of the West Stand and bring Scotstoun to its feet. Horne would add the extras, taking the score to 31-14 and giving his side some added breathing space.
Morne Brandon would find a late riposte for the visitors, but this was Glasgow’s night. An historic first-ever European semi-final place assured – and with the Scarlets the opposition in the last-four, Friday night’s Plaster It Purple clash at Scotstoun takes on yet another dimension.