Warriors are up for battle

Almost half a century has come and gone since Europe last belonged to Glasgow, when Jock Stein’s famously home-spun Celtic Bhoys beat Inter Milan in the 1967 final.

Talk of the city’s rugby team emulating the immortal Lisbon Lions by lifting the Champions’ Cup trophy at Twickenham next May may be ludicrously premature but there can be no doubting the emergence of a new contender — the Warriors from Clydeside.

They are not only right up there with the usual heavyweight suspects — Leinster, Munster, Toulon, Toulouse — but they are on top of the pile after the opening two rounds.

They are the only team to bag nine points out of 10, due reward for ending almost 20 years of failure in France.

In the long years when they did little more than make up the numbers, Glasgow had nothing but one miserable draw to show for 14 previous cross-channel trips in Europe’s premier competition.

Grinding the victory out at Montpellier changed all that and banished the perception of Glasgow as a team that never gets anywhere in Europe.

They have never, for example, reached the knockout stage and on the one occasion when they got close, a quarter-final play-off at Leicester in November 1997, they wished they hadn’t. Leicester engulfed them with 14 tries and 90 points.

How times change. The five-try blast against Bath and the defiance of Montpellier has elevated the Warriors to a status worthy of their name.

December’s back-to-back duels against Toulouse ought to decide who wins the pool.

Revenge is sweet for Scarlets

Way out west at Llanelli in what the locals call ‘heart-and-soul rugby country,’ they had spent an eternity waiting for the rugby gods to make some atonement for what Leicester did to the Scarlets 13 seasons ago.

In a semi-final on neutral territory at Nottingham Forest, they fell to a penalty goal so monstrous that it had never been seen before or since at Brian Clough’s old stomping ground. Tim Stimpson’s long-distance shot hit an upright and the crossbar before bouncing over.

The Scarlets, edged out of the final 13-12, got a little of their own back on Saturday night to a spontaneous burst of the Welsh national anthem, Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau.

Against opponents disrupted by injuries before and during the match, the Tigers turned out to be such a tame bunch of pussycats that Martin Johnson and the old warriors would have clasped hands to heads in sheer despair.

Drico still ahead of the game

He may have hung his boots up almost six months ago, but Brian O’Driscoll is still ahead of the game in his new role as a television pundit.

No comment proved as prophetic as his immediately after Andrew Conway had been denied a corner try against Saracens: ‘A stay of execution, I’d imagine.’

Munster struck barely a minute later, with David Kilcoyne the executioner-in- chief within 30 seconds of coming off the bench. But O’Driscoll was at least on safe ground at Thomond Park.

‘There’s no place like it,’ he said. ‘There’s an eerie silence, even more so than the one that greeted Bubba Watson when he tried to get the crowd cheering for America on the first tee at the Ryder Cup.’

When Chris Ashton offered the bunkered Sarries fleeting hope of finding the fairway, he fell over himself on the 22-metre line. O’Driscoll again rose to the occasion with the observation: ‘A bit early for the dive...’

The golden oldies of European rugby

Brad Thorn’s last ambition is to be playing when he reaches 40 in February.

Unless Leicester stop the rot against, of all clubs, Toulon in December, the ageless All Black will have been counted out of Europe before the knock-out stage. He is at least keeping some venerable company these days as identified in the oldest XV, all in action over the weekend except for the former England player with the Spanish name on the right wing: Lee Byrne (Dragons – 34); Vincent Clerc (Toulouse – 33), Gordon D’Arcy (Leinster – 34), Aurelien Rougerie (Clermont – 34), Mark Cueto (Sale – 34); Gordon Ross (London Welsh – 36), Peter Stringer (Bath – 36); Saimone Taumoepeau (Castres – 34), Carlo Festuccia (Wasps – 34), Carl Hayman (Toulon – 35); Michael Swift (Connacht – 37), Brad Thorn (Leicester – 39); Julien Bonnaire (Clermont – 36), Mauro Bergamasco (Zebre – 35), Nick Easter (Harlequins – 36).

Weekend Awards

Conning the referee: Northampton flanker Calum Clarke using his legs to trap Scott Baldwin in a ruck and make it impossible for the Ospreys hooker to roll away. French referee Romain Poite fell for it and gave the English champions the platform for George North’s hat-trick try.

Embarrassing give-aways: Leicester wing Miles Benjamin literally throwing away the first Scarlets try. Leicester centre Anthony Allen dropping the ball with the line at his mercy.

Sharpest witticism: Nigel Owens, the gay Welsh referee who also happens to be the best in the business, after a Harlequins line-out throw almost landed into the hands of the scrum half: ‘I’m straighter than that one....’

Stating the obvious: ‘George (North) is a good player,’ – Northampton head coach Jim Mallinder.

The one-game-at-a-time booby prize: Chris Masoe of Toulon who used the cliché twice when asked whether his Toulon team will make it three titles in a row.

Telling it as it is: Ulster captain Rory Best whose side has one point out of ten: ‘We’re struggling...’

Best XV of round two

15. Leigh Halfpenny (Toulon).

14. Delon Armitage (Toulon).

13. Aurelien Rougerie (Clermont).

12. Ian Madigan (Leinster).

11. George North (Northampton).

10. Stephen Myler (Northampton).

9. Conor Murray (Munster).

1. David Kilcoyne (Munster).

2. Guilhem Guirado (Toulon).

3. Euan Murray (Glasgow).

4. Courtney Lawes (Northampton).

5. Paul O’Connell (Munster).

6. Juan Smith (Toulon).

7. Johnny Barclay (Scarlets).

8. Josh Strauss (Glasgow).


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