Exeter into last eight after draw with Glasgow

Nikola Matawalu’s try earned Glasgow a draw, but it was not enough to preserve their hopes
Champions Cup Pool 2
Glasgow Warriors (24) 31
Tries: Seymour, Jones, Horne, Matawalu Cons: Hastings (4) Pen: Hastings
Exeter Chiefs: (24) 31
Tries: White, Kvesic (2), Vermeulen Cons: Simmonds (4) Pens: Simmonds

Exeter Chiefs clinched their place in the last eight of the Champions Cup despite being held in a titanic tussle with Glasgow Warriors at Scotstoun.

Dave Rennie’s hosts – realistically needing a bonus-point win to keep their hopes alive – crossed twice inside eight minutes through Tommy Seymour and Huw Jones.

But the Premiership leaders capitalised twice on Glasgow yellow cards to run in tries by Matt Kvesic (2) and Jacques Vermeulen after Nic White’s score.

Glasgow levelled twice through George Horne and Nikola Matawalu – and had a late Sam Johnson effort disallowed – but the draw leaves their qualification hopes dangling by a thread.

Three points moves them second in the pool, but even a bonus-point win in their final game against Sale Sharks will almost certainly not be enough to claim a best runners-up spot.

Exeter did almost snatch victory in the final moments, Stuart Hogg striking the bar with a long-range penalty on his return to Scotstoun.

Exeter capitalise on Gibbins yellow

Exeter were in the box seat before this, so all the pressure was on Glasgow, a win with a bonus point the requirement to get themselves back in the hunt for qualification by way of a best runner-up slot.

On a day that Hogg made his return, his old team made the most blistering start, running in for two of the four tries they needed inside eight minutes.

The first arrived before a minute had been played, Seymour starting with a high take before the Warriors roared down the short side through George Horne, Glenn Bryce and Fraser Brown. The hooker put Seymour away, the winger chipping and gathering to score. Hastings banged over the conversion to get this belter of a game off to a tumultuous beginning.

Simmonds made it 7-3 with the boot but Glasgow struck again soon after. Playing with the wind in the first half, they repeatedly boomed kicks into Hogg’s airspace. From the restart, Hastings dropped a peach that the full-back spilled. The next time Exeter got their hands on it they were 14-3 behind.

Patience, pace and accuracy created the opening, Johnson putting Jones in, the centre stepping outside White to score a terrific try. Again, Hastings’ difficult conversion was good and Glasgow had the start they’d have been dreaming about.

The visitors aren’t a formidable force for nothing, of course. The early deficit didn’t put even the slightest dent in their confidence. Once they started winning ball, they scored. Their line speed in defence forced an error from Johnson, who put his pass to ground in midfield, White catching it on the bounce and running away to the posts.

Matt Kvesic crossed twice for Exeter

Hastings made it 17-10 to keep things sweet for Glasgow but one of the seminal moments of the afternoon was now upon us. Callum Gibbins saw yellow for a shoulder charge on Vermeulen at the breakdown. Referee Romain Poite thought it a sin-binning. Given the contact was on, or painfully close to, Vermeulen’s head then Gibbins was a little fortunate.

The 10-minutes saw Exeter score two converted tries. Kvesic went over from close-range – Exeter are utterly ruthless and virtually unstoppable when they’ve got up a head of steam around the five metre line – and the Vermeulen went over,

That one had its origins with a burst from Jack Nowell up the right, then multiple phases each one inching ever closer to the Glasgow line. Jannes Kirsten blasted the Chiefs into the red zone and Vermeulen was not going to be denied when the opportunity presented itself. Lethal.

With three tries on the bounce from the visitors, the home crowd might have started to fear the worst, but their resilience was outstanding and their desire for victory white-hot. In the half’s last play, Hastings engineered something, wonderfully stepping Alec Hepburn, then fending Enrique Pieretto and feeding Horne on his shoulder. All square at 24-24. A minor classic.

Spirited Glasgow punished for mistakes

The frantic nature of it carried on. Breathless wouldn’t come close to covering it. Twice in the opening minutes of the new half, Glasgow had glorious chances to score again and twice the bounce of the ball was unkind. It was Jones both times who had the opportunity.

The first of them was clear-cut but the ball wouldn’t come good for him. The second was an absolute sitter. Having hacked on from spilled Exeter ball, Jones raced ahead and stooped but the ball stayed low and he fumbled. The sheer agony of the moment was writ large all over his face.

How Glasgow suffered. Soon after, following four warnings from Poite while under savage pressure in their own 22, Glasgow had Brown binned. More pressure, more control, more patience saw Kvesic go over from a yard for a fourth Exeter try. With the conversion they were ahead again at 31-24. Once more, the Warriors had been punished for their lack of numbers.

Their spirit was remarkable, though. Back they came with 14 minutes left, a lineout maul doing to Exeter what Exeter do to all-comers. Matawalu sneaked to get the touch down as as the rumble went over the line. Hastings’ conversion, into the wind and from the touchline, was sensational.

Level again at 31-31, Glasgow tried to kick on. Johnson went over on the right but Poite ruled it out, correctly, for a forward pass from Hastings to Rob Harley just before Johnson was put clear. Next, Hastings had a lash at a drop goal that was just too far out. Desperation had set in.

Exeter had a chance to win it at the death, Hogg, of all people, lining up a penalty attempt from 60 metres that came crashing off the bar.

A draw it remained, a result that suited the Chiefs down to the ground but one that destroyed the Warriors’ hopes of progress. They gave so much but it wasn’t enough.

‘We’ve shown huge character’ – reaction

Glasgow Warriors head coach Dave Rennie: “We’re proud of the effort. Frustrated as well. We created a lot of opportunities but we’re disappointed because it’s put us under a bit of pressure in Europe.

“It was a good start but we gave them a soft one for their first try. We made some pretty good decisions but in the end didn’t get the result.

“We created opportunities, we just couldn’t get the ball to sit up. I think we had four clear opportunities if it had have sat up.”

Exeter Chiefs director of rugby Rob Baxter: “We’ve shown huge character. Today was a day to stand up and show character.

“We had players dropping out through the week, we had players dropping out last night, we got disrupted in our travel here and turned up late, the weather is changeable.

“We were 14-3 down very early. Everything was a challenge today and we’ve dealt with it and come through with what feels like a winning draw and we’ll take that every day of the week.”

Glasgow Warriors: Bryce, Seymour, Jones, Johnson, Steyn, Hastings, G Horne; Kebble, Brown, Z Fagerson, Cummings, Gray, Wilson, Gibbins, M Fagerson.

Replacements: Turner, Seiuli Nicol, Harley, Fusaro, Price, P Horne, Matawalu.

Exeter: Hogg, Nowell, Whitten, Devoto, Woodburn, Simmonds, White; Hepburn, Cowan-Dickie, Pieretto, Kirsten, Lonsdale, Ewers, Vermeulen, Kvesic.

Replacements: Taione, Moon, Street, Witty, Armand, Maunder, Steenson, Hill.

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