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Glasgow Warriors knocked out Champions Cup as Montpellier claim last-16 spot

GLASGOW’s fears that they had not done enough to stay in the Champions Cup were realised last night when Montpellier got the result they needed against Exeter to claim the eighth and last qualifying spot for the knockout stages from Pool A.

The Warriors’ slim hopes of progressing to the last 16 were still alive – just – on Saturday night after they lost 38-30 at home to La Rochelle. Any kind of win at Scotstoun would have been enough to put them through, but they were second best in most aspects of the game against last year’s runners-up, and fell just short of getting a losing bonus point.

The defeat left them in eighth place in the pool, and that would have been enough as long as Montpellier failed to pick up a single match point at home to Exeter yesterday evening. As it was, however, the French side claimed all five points from the match, scoring four tries in their 37-26 victory.

Glasgow now drop down into the last 16 of the Challenge Cup, where they will also be joined by Edinburgh. The line-ups for that round will not be known until after the last lot of pool games in early April. 

Despite the disappointment of failing to progress in European rugby’s premier competition, Danny Wilson insisted that his team would still do all they could to win the Challenge Cup. But he acknowledged that they had shot themselves in the foot by committing too many unforced errors against La Rochelle, when they needed to be at their sharpest against one of the most physically formidable teams in the tournament.

“It’s still good to be in the Challenge Cup, and we’ll give it every shot to go and win it,” the head coach said. “But the top end of Europe is where we want to be.

“We genuinely felt we could beat La Rochelle at home, as we have a really good record – but it wasn’t to be. It was a good side we were playing against, a big physical side.

“At times we made it too easy and that’s something we need to improve. Perhaps some of the errors you get away with in other games, La Rochelle will score. That’s why they were in the European final last year.”

Yesterday’s win against Exeter was the only one Montpellier managed in their four pool games, their other points having come from being awarded a 28-0 home win over Leinster when the Irish side had Covid cases and the game was cancelled. “I don’t necessarily agree with 28-0 results,” Wilson added.

“I think this competition is truly frustrating. Teams can qualify without winning a game and I find that very different and very difficult. But it is what it is and the rules were made for Covid.

“For me, you don’t get Covid on purpose. We are all in a world where it has spread through everybody. Every team is going to have their day with it. We have had to rearrange games against Edinburgh.

“It’s difficult. I don’t know the answer so I can’t necessarily be critical, but 28-0 does seem a bit unfair.”

Tournament organisers EPCR have insisted that in a very crowded calendar they have little option but to cancel games that cannot go ahead on their original dates. Yet while that is a plausible argument, they could still award a four-point win rather than a five-pointer to the team who were deemed able to play, or simply declare the cancelled game a draw and give the teams two points apiece.

While Montpellier did in the end win a match on the pitch yesterday, they could have gone through with just a losing bonus. When they played Leinster in Dublin eight days ago they were hammered 89-7, while in their away game against Exeter in December they lost 42-6.

Glasgow ended up on five points after beating Exeter at home and getting a losing bonus against La Rochelle in France. Despite being disappointed about getting knocked out, Wilson still thinks they have made progress. 

“We have taken some big steps forward this year, I think, in comparison with last year,” he added. “That culminated in a good home win against Exeter. If we get a chance to play these big Test-match games – which is what they are – they are the games you want to be involved in and the games that will test your squad. You learn lessons from those games when you go back into the league.”

The Warriors are currently fourth in the URC table, level on points with third-placed and seven behind leaders Edinburgh. Champions Leinster are four points adrift of Mike Blair’s team but have a game in hand. Both Scottish sides have away fixtures in the league on Saturday, Glasgow at Connacht and Edinburgh at the Ospreys.

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