Mark Bennett scored two tries as Glasgow Warriors cruised to a bonus-point 37-10 over Bath in Pool 4.
Perhaps supporters of Glasgow Warriors left disgruntled by the deluge of pundits who expect their team to fail again in Europe have a point.
Gregor Townsend’s men have long fallen short of matching commanding domestic form with the sort of sustained European performances that suggest they are worthy of a place among the continent’s elite – until now.
Shorn through injury of two of their most influential figures in Josh Strauss and Alex Dunbar, the Warriors produced a thrilling five-try display to trounce Aviva Premiership high-flyers Bath 37-10 on their maiden Champions Cup outing.
With months of unrest, conflict and politicking now at an end, the Euro game has emerged a more streamlined, exclusive beast than ever before, and victories on home soil assume even greater significance than under the previous format. In that regard, Glasgow passed with flying colours.
Sure, it wasn’t perfect – though it wasn’t far off. There was the odd howler – Stuart Hogg spilled a speculative punt unchallenged to allow Jonathan Joseph a seven-point run-in with the scores still tight. But it was a win, five points in the standings, and none for their rivals, and that, frankly, is all that matters in this cutthroat Euro-sphere.
A brace from Mark Bennett, and tries from Sean Maitland, Tommy Seymour, and Niko Matawalu cancelled out Joseph’s early effort, with Duncan Weir kicking 12 points.
Bath’s storming start to the Premiership is well-documented. In amassing – with the emphasis on ‘mass’ – a fearsome pack of forwards to compliment his electrifying young backline, head coach Mike Ford has assembled a squad many anticipate will compete for top domestic and continental honours.
Rarely, however, did the likes of Semesa Rokodugni and Anthony Watson find themselves with quality possession and open ground with which they could make a difference – they were hurt too by a dearth of fit back-row players.
A scrum infringement from loosehead Gordon Reid allowed one of English rugby’s hottest prospects, fly-half George Ford, to break the deadlock with a well-struck penalty three minutes in.
And the Warriors survived an early scare when the 21-year-old’s pass found the touchline instead of the onrushing Rokoduguni – the former army tank driver who has beaten more defenders than any other in his league had a clear run to the corner – but responded in some style.
A powerful run up the left touchline from Seymour laid the platform on the visitors’ 22, and from 15 metres out, Bennett cut a lovely angle off Weir to skip past a pair of tacklers and ground acrobatically beneath the crossbar, leaving his pivot with a simple conversion.
Their lead proved short-lived. Hogg’s blunder saw Joseph hacking the loose ball through, gathering to dot down untouched behind the posts, Ford converting with ease. The three-point lead it gave Bath was as good as the going got for the visitors.
A brace of Weir penalties put Townsend’s troops ahead before Seymour, again, proved the catalyst for Glasgow’s second.
His superb mid-air take, over the top of Rokoduguni, brought his team into the danger zone once more. The ball was spread wide, and Hogg redeemed himself with a smart arcing run and offload to Maitland, the kilted Kiwi powering past a feeble Gavin Henson tackle to make the line.
Weir missed the conversion, but the Warriors had all the momentum. Leone Nakarawa, seeking an offload as ever, had the ball dislodged from his grasp right on the whitewash as the hosts sought a third before half-time.
They didn’t have to wait long. Heaping pressure upon the visitors’ scrum, Glasgow won first a set-piece of their own, then a free-kick, and it was the outstanding Seymour himself who finished in the corner from Henry Pyrgos’ quick-tap.
The winger’s injury, sustained as he crossed the line, and Weir’s errant boot were the only real causes for alarm amid home ranks at the break, the squat fly-half missing a long but straight penalty as the clock turned red.
Seymour did not emerge after the interval, but it didn’t affect the flow of the game. Right from the off, Adam Ashe scythed through the Bath midfield, and a few phases later, his replacement, DTH van der Merwe, almost latched onto a Hogg grubber at the corner, just failing to collect the bouncing ball.
With the introduction of Peter Stringer at scrum-half, the visitors’ play sped up markedly, and they enjoyed their strongest period of play. Watson and Ford both made searing breaks from deep, and but for a touch of imprecision, the Premiership side would have had the try they needed to reassert themselves, trailing still by just 13 points.
Glasgow had their own livewire nine on the bench, however. Fan favourite Matawalu scored the bonus-point try, ending the game as a contest, in inimitable style following up his own well-placed grubber. This time, Weir’s conversion grazed the inside of the upright on its way over.
Bennett twisted the knife yet further when he broke from his own ten-metre line, fed inside to van der Merwe and collected the Canadian’s kick through to score. Weir converted again, and the Warriors rounded off a dream start to their Champions Cup campaign by keeping Bath scoreless as time ran out.
Tries: Bennett 2, Maitland, Seymour, Matawalu
Cons: Weir 3
Pens: Weir 2
Glasgow: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Peter Horne, 11 Tommy Seymour, 10 Duncan Weir, 9 Henry Pyrgos (c), 8 Adam Ashe, 7 Chris Fusaro, 6 Rob Harley, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Leone Nakarawa, 3 Euan Murray, 2 Pat MacArthur, 1 Gordon Reid.
Replacements: 16 Dougie Hall, 17 Jerry Yanuyanutawa, 18 Rossouw de Klerk, 19 Tim Swinson, 20 Tyrone Holmes, 21 Niko Matawalu, 22 Finn Russell, 23 DTH van der Merwe.
Bath: 15 Gavin Henson, 14 Semesa Rokoduguni, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Kyle Eastmond, 11 Anthony Watson; 10 George Ford, 9 Micky Young, 8 David Sisi, 7 Guy Mercer, 6 Dominic Day, 5 David Attwood, 4 Stuart Hooper (c), 3 Henry Thomas, 2 Ross Batty, 1 Nick Auterac.
Replacements: 16 Rob Webber, 17 Paul James, 18 David Wilson, 19 Charlie Ewels, 20 Tom Ellis, 21 Peter Stringer, 22 Ollie Devoto, 23 Horacio Agulla