Glasgow Warriors struggled through an uncomfortable afternoon against Cardiff Blues at windy Scotstoun but eventually got the essential bonus point win that sets them up for a Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final spot.
George Horne’s last-gasp try settled more than a few nerves on the pitch and in the stands after the Welsh side – already out of the competition – had fought back with two late tries of their own to reduce their deficit to only four points.
It was not the restorative performance the Warriors had been hoping for, but the positive result after three successive defeats will do wonders heading into next week’s final pool game away to Saracens – where the result may not matter.
If old rivals Edinburgh beat Montpellier on Friday night to secure top place in their pool, both Scottish teams will progress to the last eight without a blow being required at Allianz Park the following afternoon.
As it stands, at least one of the Scots teams will progress to the last eight, but there is now considerable hope that both can make the quarter-finals, the first time that’s happened in 23 years of European competition.
The Warriors made too many clumsy errors and struggled with the conditions again, but they had the four tries they needed after an hour thanks to some outstanding lineout drives and although the Blues made things interesting in the end, the score accurately reflected the game as a whole.
Warriors head coach Dave Rennie was much happier with his team’s effort after a difficult run over the last month.
“We had a better balance to our play,” said Rennie. “We can still play a bit, but we have to get some of the hard yards as well to succeed in this competition.
“I think if our mates along the road do us a favour on Friday it’ll help us, but we’re going to go to Saracens next week with the mindset to do it ourselves, get the win and top the pool. It’s certainly a couple of rungs up in terms of a task for us.
“But I’m really happy with the way the guys up front played today, scrum and maul were excellent and conditions were really difficult for both teams.”
Glasgow fans hoping for an immediate reaction to the run of three defeats had to sit through a nightmare first 25 minutes with a mixture of clumsiness, bad play and worrying injuries before their team settled down.
Matt Fagerson was helped off with a shoulder injury and then Callum Gibbins after falling awkwardly requiring a major reshuffle of the pack, but that was no excuse for the Warriors being so profligate with their first few chances.
A lineout in the Blues 22 was thrown away, and second brought a fine drive but Ali Price opted a quick tap penalty and DTH van der Merwe was easily shoved into touch at the corner, and then Cardiff’s Josh Navidi stole ball on the deck as the Warriors pressed none too convincingly in the Blues 22.
Stuart Hogg twice kicked dead in-goal from his own half misjudging the strength of the wind, there were a couple of daft penalties given away and Glasgow were toiling until they suddenly clicked into gear with two tries in four minutes.
After winning a midfield penalty they kicked to the corner, and time the drive was direct and well-drilled for Grant Stewart to score easily, Brandon Thomson converting.
Tommy Seymour’s thrilling 70 metre break from the restart immediately put Glasgow right back in position, and choosing to scrum two penalties brought reward as Scott Cummings picked a line to score under the posts, Thomson adding the extra two.
Cardiff struck back with a fine combination down the touchline between full back Mark Fish and wing Owen Lane saw the wing go in for an unconverted try, and Glasgow were forced to settle for a modest 14-5 lead with the elements in their favour.
The Warriors still weren’t super slick into the wind, but after one lineout drive was stalled and the ball lost, they regrouped, won another lineout and drove it for Chris Fusaro to score, Thomson converting off the bar.
A well-worked Harry Millard try for the Blues simply allowed Glasgow to regain field position from the restart, steal the ball through Seymour and quickly work the space for Oli Kebble to burst over for the crucial bonus point try on the hour mark, converted by Thomson.
Navidi’s try three minutes later, converted by replacement Jarrod Evans , gave the Blues some interest in reducing the gap to 11 points with 15 minutes left, and they seized on their next chance, Owen Lane picking a brilliant line from a set scrum move to go in under the posts for his second try and the Blues’ fourth.
That made for an extremely nervy last ten minutes for the Warriors, but they drove their way into painstakingly into the Blues 22 to force a couple of scrums, and replacement Horne darted in from the back of the second to clinch the win.
Glasgow Warriors: S Hogg; T Seymour, N Grigg, S Johnson, DTH van der Merwe; B Thomson, A Price; O Kebble, G Stewart, D Rae; R Harley, J Gray; R Wilson, C Gibbins, M Fagerson.
Replacements: K Bryce for Stewart 78, A Allan for Kebble 61, P du Plessis for Rae 70, T Swinson for Fagerson 7, C Fusaro for Gibbins 11, G Horne for Price 67.
Cardiff Blues: D Fish; O Lane, H Millard, W Haloholo, T Jones; S Shingler, L Williams; B Thyer, M Rees, D Lewis; G Earle, R Thornton; S Lewis-Hughes, J Navidi, S Davies.
Replacements: E Lewis for Rees 40, R Carre for Thyer 57, S Andrews for D Lewis 49, M Cook for G Earle 60, N Williams for Lewis-Hughes 49, T Williams for L Williams 57, J Evans for Shingler 49, A Summerhill for James 70.
Ref: JP Doyle (RFU)