La Rochelle 24-27 Glasgow Warriors
A never-say-die attitude and two moments of attacking brilliance proved decisive for Glasgow Warriors on the Atlantic coast, as Dave Rennie’s men claimed a vital 27-24 win away to La Rochelle in the Heineken Champions Cup.
Trailing at the interval, second-half scores from Niko Matawalu and Kyle Steyn saw the Warriors edge in front before shutting the door on their hosts to claim all four points from the Pool Two encounter.
It was the Warriors that made the brighter start go proceedings, as the visiting defence got stuck in from the first whistle. That defensive pressure was rewarded with just 90 seconds on the clock, as Adam Hastings punished a La Rochelle indiscretion by slotting the first successful kick of the afternoon from 35 metres to give the visitors the lead.
If the home crowd had been silenced by that early blow, it didn’t take long for them to find their voice once more. Vincent Rattez was the catalyst for the increase in volume, breaking a couple of tackles before offloading to the supporting Dany Priso. The French prop was in no mood to be stopped from 20 metres, crashing under the posts to give Jules Plisson the simplest of conversions for a 7-3 lead.
A try-saving turnover from Fraser Brown denied La Rochelle a second score on 13 minutes, leaving Plisson to keep the scoreboard ticking over on his side’s behalf. The France international fly-half was on target from 40 metres with 17 minutes played, before hammering over another penalty from halfway to make it 13-3 at the end of the opening quarter.
With La Rochelle having dominated the possession and territory stats, Dave Rennie’s side were more than happy to take the points on offer with 27 minutes played. A limpet-like turnover from Brown gave Hastings the chance to add another three points to the total, the Glasgow fly-half duly obliging from 35 metres.
Yet the home side weren’t to be denied a second score before the interval, albeit in slightly freakish circumstances. Scott Cummings steal at a five-metre lineout looked to have averted the danger for the Warriors, only for the ball to bounce over the head of George Horne and into the hands of Zeno Kieft. The Dutch flanker needed no second invitation to crash over, with Plisson off target for the first time in the match.
The Warriors knew that they needed to score next, and score next they did. With the clock in the red at the end of the half, Hastings turned down a shot at the posts in favour of the kick to the corner, and his decision was vindicated in style. A textbook five-metre maul saw Gibbins driven over in unstoppable fashion, with Hastings converting to leave the score at 18-13 to the hosts at the interval.
If the Warriors had finished the first half the stronger, it was La Rochelle that began the second period on the front foot. A break from Rattez forced the visitors offside in their scramble defence, allowing Plisson to extend the home side’s lead to 21-13 just two minutes after the restart.
Yet for all La Rochelle’s attacking intent, it was Glasgow that provided an attacking sucker-punch on 50 minutes. Matawalu read Victor Vito’s intentions to perfection to pick off the former All Black’s pass and scamper home, racing 60 metres to dive over in the corner. Hastings converted, and it was a one-point ball game.
Whilst Plisson re-established a degree of comfort for the hosts with his fourth successful penalty three minutes later, momentum was well and truly with the Warriors. A floated ball from Hastings put Cummings through a gap, with the second-row’s gallop for the try-line only halted by some desperate La Rochelle defence.
Then came a moment of sheer Glasgow brilliance; with advantage in hand, Hastings planted an inch-perfect cross-field kick into the arms of Steyn. The Scotland 7s star had a significant amount of finishing to do from halfway but finish he did, rounding his man on the outside and out-pacing the defence to silence the home supporters. Hastings converted, and the Warriors led 27-24.
Needing to win the match to keep their own hopes of qualifying for the knock-out stages alive, La Rochelle kicked into full attack mode. Turning down the three points that would have tied the match in favour of a five-metre lineout, Brock James could only watch as Rob Harley provided a masterclass in maul disruption, before Aki Seiuli reacted quickest to pilfer a loose ball at the base of a ruck.
Tommy Seymour’s unsuccessful pursuit of the try bonus-point aside, it was Glasgow’s resolve in defence that characterised the closing stages. Try as they might to break through, the hosts repeatedly came up against an impenetrable Warriors wall. On the one occasion the hosts broke through, Ali Price was on hand to chase down Rattez, denying him the score and preserving the Glasgow lead.
Even in the fifth minute of overtime, the Glasgow defence was relentless. One final, epic shift from the visitors forced the vital knock-on from La Rochelle – the win was secured, and the Warrior Nation were in full voice as they stood to acclaim their team.