Glasgow 31 Chiefs 31
Glasgow Warriors 31
Exeter Chiefs 31
Mark Stevens at Scotstoun Stadium
Exeter Chiefs are advancing in Europe, but the battle for home supremacy will go down to the wire following this high-scoring affair North of the Border.
Rob Baxter’s side collected the necessary points to ensure their place in the last eight of the Heineken Champions Cup for only the second time in the club’s history, but they will have to overcome visiting La Rochelle a week today to ensure themselves of a home quarter-final.
Up against a spirited Glasgow Warriors side, who themselves still harboured hopes pre-game of progression in the tournament, the current Gallagher Premiership leaders showed their growing maturity in this hard-fought display.
Not only did they overcome a lightning fast start from the Scotsmen - one in which they scored tries through Tommy Seymour and Huw Jones - but they also had to withstand a heavy late barrage when the game was ebbing and flowing faster than the nearby River Clyde.
In between all of that, the Chiefs were hard-nosed in their approach, claiming tries through Nic White, Matt Kvesic (2) and Jacques Vermeulen, plus the remainder of their points through the boot of fly-half Joe Simmonds, who took on the captaincy duties for the first time in his senior career.
Even then, Baxter’s braves could have won it at the death when Stuart Hogg, on his first venture back to his former stomping ground, saw a 60 metre penalty chance cannon back off the crossbar.
It would have capped a fairytale return for Hogg, who spent nine seasons with the Warriors before opting for a move south last summer and a new start with the Chiefs.
Returning to European action for the first time in a month, Baxter’s pre-match plans were somewhat disrupted with key forwards Jonny Hill and Dave Dennis both ruled out in the week, then Don Armand forced to follow suit having fallen ill overnight.
It meant some late shuffling of resources and Glasgow made the most of this, hitting their rivals with a try after just 54 seconds. Having regathered their own kick-off, they hit up through the middle and then went down the blindside, where Ryan Wilson drew in the cover before passing to Seymour.
Still with a bit to do, the recently retired Scottish international chipped over the top of White, before lapping up the loose ball to dot down in the right corner. Scotstoun duly erupted into a wall of noise, which was just as loud when fly-half Adam Hastings banged over the testing touchline conversion.
Simmonds reduced the arrears almost immediately, claiming his first points of the day when he slotted a routine penalty on four minutes, only for the home side to strike for a second time, Jones the scorer when he worked his way back through the heart of Exeter’s midfield to claim a second converted score.
The Chiefs were clearly rocked by Glasgow’s opening burst, but by the time the first quarter had elapsed, they were slowly beginning to find some rhythm in their play. Their opening try, it has to be said, was somewhat gifted to them as White capitalised on a loose pass from Sam Johnson to lap up possession and scamper home from nigh on halfway.
The score was just what the visitors needed, especially given their opening to the game.
Hastings nudged his side further ahead with a penalty, before the hosts were momentarily reduced to 14 men after skipper Callum Gibbins was yellow-carded for an ugly hit on Vermeulen. The incident was initially missed by French referee Romain Poite, but following a check with the TV match official, the Kiwi forward was duly dispatched to the cooler.
Exeter duly made their numerical advantage pay, using the resulting penalty to position themselves just metres from the home line. The initial thrust was repelled illegally by the Warriors, but when the Chiefs went again, this time they worked the opening for Kvesic to burrow over from close range.
Simmonds slotted the extras to that score and Exeter’s third, which arrived just five minutes before the break. Some industrious carrying from Dave Ewers, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Kvesic got the Chiefs to within sniffing distance of the line. White sniped when he picked from the base of a ruck, but although held, Vermeulen was close at hand to drive over.
In front for the first time in the match, the Chiefs were looking to close out an entertaining first period with consummate ease. The Warriors, though, had other ideas and with the last play of the half, they restored parity when Hastings spotted a gap between two Exeter forwards before offloading to George Horne, who needed no second invitation to ghost in under the posts.
HALF TIME GLASGOW WARRIORS 24 EXETER CHIEFS 24
With nothing to choose between either side at the turn, the Chiefs re-emerged for the second half with the strong downfield wind now at their backs. It was, however, the hosts who were first to threaten.
Capitalising on a pass mix-up between Simmonds and Ian Whitten, Jones hacked the loose ball forward and set off at a rate of knots in pursuit of the prize. For all the money in Scotland, the centre looked destined to score, but just as he went to gather his punt, he knocked on and the chance was gone as quickly as it came.
The Chiefs duly made the most of the let-off, not only clearing their lines, but using their ever-improving scrum to milk a succession of penalties. It was allowing the Premiership club to gain vital territory and possession at the same time.
When Fraser Brown became the second Warrior to be yellow-carded on 52 minutes, the Chiefs once again made the numbers game pay, Kvesic claiming his second of the afternoon when he was driven over under the posts by at least three of his colleagues. Simmonds again converted to ensure maximum reward for the visitors.
Back in front, the Travelling Tribe - who had made the long trek North in decent numbers - expected their heroes to kick on and finish the job. As the game entered into the final quarter, it was a former Chief who hauled the home side back into the match.
A soft penalty award allowed Glasgow to kick to within metres of the try-line - and they used the subsequent line-out move to work the opening for Fijian flyer Niko Matawalu to somehowsneak over in the corner. Again, Hastings drilled over a sublime kick from wide on the right to restore parity.
With the natives duly awoken, the Warriors pushed forward in numbers in search for further bounty. Johnson had a try chalked off for a forward pass with ten minutes remaining, then Hastings shot well wide with a speculative drop-goal chance shortly after.
The drama, though, was far from over and when the Chiefs won a scrum penalty in the dying minutes, many - including Baxter himself - expected the visitors to kick for the corner and set-up one of their trademark set-piece moves.
Hogg, though, could sense this was his destiny and after a quick conflab with Simmonds, who knew the kick was well out of his kicking range, he took hold of the ball and set his sights on the target. A puff of the chest, a few strides later, and Hogg connected with the ball.
From the sidelines, it looked on the money. Sadly, it just didn’t have enough in the final stretch and cannon back off the middle of the crossbar. Chiefs racing in hot pursuit did their best to regather possession, but a knock-on in the ensuing melee meant the chance was lost and the game was over as a contest.
For the Chiefs, a three-point return they would gladly take. Now, they aim to finish the job against La Rochelle and ensure more home comforts moving forward in this season’s Champions Cup.
Warriors: G Bryce; T Seymour (N Matawalu 53), H Jones, S Johnson, K Steyn; A Hastings, G Horne (A Price 64); O Kebble (A Seiuli 55), F Brown, Z Fagerson; S Cummings, J Gray; R Wilson, C Gibbins (capt, G Turner 56-64, C Fusaro 71), M Fagerson (R Harley h/t). Replacements (not used): A Nicol, P Horne.
Tries - Seymour, Jones, Horne, Matawalu; Conversions - Hastings (4); Penalty - Hastings
Yellow Cards: Gibbons, Brown
Chiefs: S Hogg; J Nowell, I Whitten, O Devoto (S Hill 64), O Woodburn; J Simmonds, N White (J Maunder 53-59); A Hepburn (B Moon 62), L Cowan-Dickie (E Taione 78), E Pieretto (M Street 54); J Kirsten (W Witty 66), S Lonsdale; D Ewers, J Vermeulen, M Kvesic. Replacements: (not used): T Price, G Steenson, S Hill
Tries - White, Kvesic (2), Vermeulen; Conversions - J Simmonds (4); Penalty - J Simmonds
Referee: R Poite