Nose bent to the left by one impact, Petrus du Plessis was still smiling broadly in the dressing room in the Stadio Monigo after his 35-minute cameo settled Glasgow to their crucial 38-19 win over Benetton.
Reports of a crisis are massively overblown – this is still pretty much the same squad that reached the Guinness PRO14 final last year – but it hadn’t been a great week for the Warriors.
A dispiriting defeat at Murrayfield in the second 1872 Cup game and Jonny Gray’s impending departure tramped all over the good news that Leone Nakarawa was coming home.
With so many frontliners being rested because of the brutal schedule, it needed some real character in Italy. The Warriors got it from the Horne brothers, who bossed the game at half-back with a mixture of sound basics and occasional flair, a stalwart effort by their locks and loose forwards on both sides of the ball, and the part-timer du Plessis.
With D’Arcy Rae injured and Zander Fagerson having to be rested, the 38-year-old who stepped back to be scrum coach in the summer was emergency cover for tight-head. He was called on after five minutes of the second half as Adam Nicol struggled with the powerful Benetton front row, and a stream of penalties were giving the Italians plenty of opportunities to kick to the 22 and use their devastating mauling game.
The effect was instanteous: the Warriors’ pack won a penalty at the second scrum with du Plessis on, and the stream of penalties against them in that setpiece dried up.
“I thought Petrus was fantastic,” said Dave Rennie afterwards. “He obviously added a lot of experience to our scrum and shored that area up along with Oli (Kebble), which helped us get our game going again.
“But he did a lot of graft too, so he’s got a massive smile on his face sitting in there with 30 minutes under his belt.”
The Hornes supplied three of the six tries, but it was the defensive effort that underpinned the victory, with a new back row of Tom Gordon, Ryan Wilson and Bruce Flockhart, making a rare start, proving immovable.
“I guess we’ve talked a lot about Bruce,” said Rennie. “It’s been frustrating that we haven’t been able to get him on the field – he’s had a lot of injuries and a lot of niggles so there have been precious few opportunities to play him in the last couple of years.
“But today just highlights why we think highly of him. He’s a beast of a man, a really powerful athlete, probably one of our best tacklers, so it was good to see him get out there, play 80 minutes, and have that sort of game.”
In PRO14 terms, Glasgow move into third in Conference A, and with two homes games against Zebre and Dragons coming up, will be looking at least to stay in that play-off slot. But there’s the little matter of two Heineken Champions Cup matches next, and Rennie hopes it can be the launch of a run like last year’s at this time.
“We’ve played a lot of good footy over the last month or so, but we maybe haven’t been clinical enough when it mattered, or we’ve let in a couple of soft tries,” he said.
“I thought we were a lot better today. We had to defend, they asked a lot of questions, but I thought we looked after the ball well and it was really good to finish as strong as we did, put the foot on the throat.”
“Exeter next week are one of the best sides in Europe. We had a good look at their game against Saracens last week, where I thought defensively they were phenomenal.
“We’re going to throw everything at it. Obviously our loss to La Rochelle at home has put us under a bit of heat: we’ve got no option but to win, so we’ll throw everything at it.”