It may not have been the start to their Champions Cup campaign that they would have liked, but despite the loss there were signs that once Glasgow settle into their stride in this tournament it is unlikely that the errors we saw in this match will repeat themselves so readily. From a Scotland point of view there was plenty on show from many players who will feature in the Six Nations for Scotland and while at times there were errors in execution there is still plenty to be excited about. Scotland like Italy may only have one team in this competition but there the differences end. While Italy struggles to make a mark in both the European Champions Cup and the Six Nations, Scotland still looks like they could do well in the former and are likely to be a serious dark horse in the latter.
Glasgow vs Northampton
Final Score – Glasgow 15/Northampton 26
There is little doubt that this match was dominated by Northampton from start to finish. However from Glasgow’s point of view there were still enough positives to give them confidence to press forward with their remaining five pool games in the European Champions Cup. Glasgow managed to get two quality tries to Northampton’s three, and had Finn Russell had a more accurate night with the boot then the scoreline would have been much closer. However, it was such inaccuracies coupled with some costly errors in handling that tripped up an otherwise impressive performance from Glasgow’s backs and midfield. Add to this a hooker suddenly thrust into the limelight from the bench for the whole match coupled with a torrid time in the set pieces and lineouts and despite their obvious talents Glasgow had their work cut out for them in their Champions Cup opener, having missed their opening game due to the tragic events in Paris the week before.
There was no question that Northampton who had already recorded a gritty win against the Scarlets in this tournament the week before, had the edge and were the more settled and composed side as a result. They clearly dominated the scrums and lineouts, their execution and handling were superior and their defence held together much better especially in terms of discipline despite a relentless assault from the Glasgow Warriors in the second half.
Glasgow looked unsettled and nervous in the opening twenty minutes and it showed in some sloppy handling and weak defence, as they leaked two tries to the Englishmen. Furthermore their scrum was being pushed all over the park and repeated infringements saw them lose prop Ryan Grant to the sin bin. Furthermore with hooker Pat MacArthur lost to injury in the opening minutes of the game replacement hooker, the new Georgian recruit Shalva Mamukashvili, was provided with an unfair baptism of fire in his first outing in a Warriors jersey. As a result for a good forty minutes of the match Glasgow looked shaky in the scrums and their lineouts were nothing but a nightmare. To give Mamukashvili full credit his game did improve towards the end and I am sure that should he start for Glasgow in their next Champions Cup fixture we are likely to see a much more composed performance from the Georgian.
Having said that it was not all gloom and doom for Glasgow in the scrums and their first try came off a scrum that held up well against solid Northampton pressure. This released Glasgow’s powerhouse back line and we were witness to some slick passing and handling through the line to ultimately get centre Peter Horne in for the try. To be honest that was the only positive in an otherwise torrid first half for the men from Glasgow, as they trailed Northampton 21-10 and looked a shadow of the PRO12 champions they were last year.
Another shaky start to the second half, saw Glasgow leak another try after ten minutes, but from there on they seemed to settle and produced their best rugby of the evening and remained very much in contention for the rest of the match. However, it was repeated handling errors and a few key misses from fly half Finn Russell which prevented them from capitalizing on a significant advantage in the territory and possession statistics. Nevertheless they did manage to start to match up to the forward presence of Northampton and as he did in the World Cup for Scotland flanker Josh Strauss made a clear impact on Glasgow’s fortunes as he scored a crucial second try for the Warriors while Northampton had a man in the sin bin.
For the rest of the match Northampton were forced into a defensive battle and Glasgow certainly showed some of the tenacity and skill that made them PRO12 champions last year. Nevertheless, Northampton stood their ground while Glasgow lacked some of the edge we saw from them last season in finishing off their chances. Glasgow’s back line did look classy at times though and is likely to become more of a threat as the Champions Cup gets to the business end of the tournament. Glasgow and Scotland backs Peter Horne, Mark Bennett and the irrepressible Stuart Hogg are all forces to be reckoned with, even though the Warriors must be regretting the departure of one of the World Cup’s stars in Canadian winger DTH van der Merwe. Lastly Finn Russell at fly half has youth and talent both working in his favour, and he will only get better as the tournament progresses.
For those looking to Scotland’s fortunes in the Six Nations, there will have been plenty to get excited about especially the already mentioned back line talents and skills that Glasgow boasts. Considering that much of Scotland’s forward pack such as David Denton, Richie Gray, John Hardie and WP Nel are plying their trade with other clubs in the competition, means that Glasgow’s slightly underwhelming performance up front at times in this match should not be a cause for concern when it comes to February. Furthermore once they settled into their stride, Johnny Gray and Josh Strauss put in a commendable shift in the forwards department last weekend for Glasgow. How well Glasgow will be able to translate their PRO12 successes of last year into results in this year’s Champions Cup remains to be seen, and to be honest given the form of the English teams this year it would seem unlikely that they will get beyond the quarter-finals stage. Nevertheless, they will be a difficult challenge for any of their opponents especially at home and despite having only one team represented in this competition there is no doubt that Scottish rugby has a new-found heart and is very much alive and well!