The second round in Europe saw both Scottish sides trying to make it two from two, after a brace of impressive victories characterised by Edinburgh’s grit and grunt, and Glasgow’s finishing and flair. Edinburgh this time held home advantage, with French side Lyon the visitors, and Glasgow travelled to the formidable home ground of French powerhouses Montpellier Herault.
Edinburgh once again kicked off on Friday night; they didn’t get everything their own way but were still able to eke out a solid 25-17 win at Murrayfield. The Scots started well, scoring a try through fullback Jack Cuthbert, and with Tom Heathcote adding the conversion and five penalties to lead 23-7 at half time. However the French raised their game, getting the better of the second half scoring. But it was too little, too late, to affect the result, and it leaves Edinburgh deservedly atop their pool in the Challenge Cup.
However, this victory could well prove Pyrrhic, as the Scots suffered an eye-watering five injuries within the first 28 minutes. This includes Edinburgh and newly-promoted Scotland captain Grant Gilchrist, which is a real blow to Vern Cotter’s plans for the Autumn Series. Preliminary scans suggest hairline fractures to the bones in his forearm, which means he will not play in November. Those others injured are Phil Burleigh, Hamish Watson, Roddy Grant and Sam Beard. This casualty list is enough for any coach to pale, so Solomons will have to hope his players make speedy returns from injury, or else Edinburgh could really struggle during the end of 2014.
By contrast, Glasgow found great fortune in the south of France, as they put bodies on the line to earn a fantastic win over Montpellier, winning 15-13 amidst the roars of the vociferous crowd. Warriors’ win over Bath showed that they could do it, but actually then winning in the partisan atmosphere of one of France’s principle rugby powers shows that last week was no fluke, and that this is a side with real belief in each other and the team.
A deserved, if abrasive, 9-6 half-time lead to Glasgow was followed by a brutal 20 minutes of battering in their own half as Montpellier turned the screw. With a typically French pack boasting power in abundance, Montpellier had the significant advantage in mauls and at scrum-time, but Glasgow fought for every inch, until eventually pressure was lifted. Indeed, Montpellier seemed stunned that all of their intensity had not yielded a single point, and in that brief moment of hesitation came the turning point of the match. Mark Bennett made a break deep into the French 22 before being hauled down, and a cynical foul at the resulting breakdown by Robert Ebersohn earned Montpellier a yellow card. Fly-half Finn Russell stepped up to add three points, and was on hand again minutes later to add another penalty to make it 15-6. Stuart Hogg was unlucky with two long-range attempts in an attempt to further the pressure, but Glasgow were still clear out in front. The final 15 minutes were nail-biting for Warriors fans, but as the clock ticked nearer and nearer to the 80-minute mark, they held out again and again. Throughout, Glasgow had been canny at the lineout, and committed at the breakdown, man-of-the-match Josh Strauss and Tim Swinson leading the way. By the time that the more powerful Montpellier scrum finally was awarded a penalty try, time was up, and Glasgow could celebrate just a second win in France in their European cup history. Their first came in Toulouse in 2009, and it is to that same stadium the Warriors travel to next when the competition resumes in December.
Based on this evidence, there is no reason why that cannot happen again – a tall order given Toulouse’s resurgence in form, but then many thought Montpellier would be too tough a nut to crack as well. As it is, Montpellier’s European campaign hangs by a thread, and it is the Warriors who march on in the Champions Cup.