The first weekend of the European Rugby Champions Cup provided some really good matchups, and Premiership champions Exeter Chiefs began their European title defence with a home game against Glasgow Warriors. The scoreline made the game sound very one-sided, but Glasgow were in the game at times as well. In this tactical analysis, we will look at how Exeter dominated the game, as well as why Glasgow, despite having moments of quality, were their own worst enemies at times.
Exeter Chiefs Glasgow Warriors
15. S. Hogg 15. G. Bryce
14. O. Woodburn 14. T. Seymour
13. H. Slade 13. N. Grigg
12. O. Devoto 12. S. Johnson
11. T. O’Flaherty 11. L. Jones
10. J. Simmonds 10. P. Horne
9. J. Maunder 9. A. Price
- A. Hepburn 1. O. Kebble
- J. Yeandle (c) 2. G. Turner
- H. Williams 3. Z. Fagerson
- J. Gray 4. R. Harley
- S. Skinner 5. S. Cummings
- D. Ewers 6. K. McDonald
- J. Kirsten 7. M. Fagerson
- S. Simmonds 8. R. Wilson (c)
Exeter Chiefs’ use of spaces
The first thing we will look at is how Exeter Chiefs aimed to use the spaces on the pitch, wherever they could find them. This was a key part of their tactics throughout the game, and is something we have seen them do a lot of over the last few seasons.
We can see that the space was available on the wings for Exeter to exploit, and, with their quick players all having good spatial awareness, Glasgow Warriors needed to cover these areas better than they did. However, in the image above, we can see how they struggled in this.
Exeter have moved the ball along the line with some clever passes, and Glasgow’s former Scotland winger Tommy Seymour has moved inside to close down the player with the ball, as is shown in the black square. However, this leaves a gap open behind him, which centre Sam Johnson now drifts across into and fills, as the black arrow shows. Johnson doesn’t move too far across, because he also needs to ensure that the wing area is not opened up for Exeter to run through. Therefore, we can see how Glasgow struggled to contain Exeter in these situations, and how the Chiefs looked to take advantage of any space they could find.
This image shows a similar situation. Winger Tom O’Flaherty, in the white circle, is in possession, and we know that he is a dangerous player who always wants to have the ball, and will go looking for it if it doesn’t come to him. Here, he has two passing options out wide to Stuart Hogg or Olly Woodburn, but instead he opts to run through the gap in the Glasgow defence.
We will look at Glasgow’s defending much more later on, but when they are retreating backwards, they leave gaps open in between them, and this is where Exeter constantly looked to get behind them and force them back towards their own try line. O’Flaherty is a quick runner who thrives in these situations, and, although he doesn’t get too far with this particular attempt, the intent is there, and it gave the Warriors something to think about as the game went on.
This time, former Glasgow player Hogg has made the run through, as we can see here. The gap between the players is evident, and taking advantage of them in this way is the reason Exeter constantly pushing the Warriors back. This is a key part of Exeter’s tactics, which they use against any opponent, and it comes because of the number of players in their squad who can make these darting runs. Again, it doesn’t come to anything this time, as Hogg is pulled down before he can advance too far, but it again demonstrates the tactics that Exeter were looking to play with in this game.
Whilst those examples showed attacking runs that were stopped, they did lead to tries being scored in the second half, and the difference was the pass that was made beforehand. In the previous examples, O’Flaherty and Hogg had opted not to pass to the wing, instead making the run through themselves. However, Henry Slade here passes the ball towards Woodburn, in the yellow circle, who then runs through the gap between captain Ryan Wilson and Tommy Seymour in front of him.
We can see how Glasgow have left the space open for this move to happen, with most of their players coming inside to try and plug any gaps centrally. Once Woodburn is through and behind the main part of the Warriors’ defensive line, it becomes a 2v1, and he then offloads to Hogg, in the red circle, who matched his run to offer support, and the Scotland international captain then goes over in the corner.
If we look at how this try was scored from Glasgow’s perspective, there wasn’t really any fault in terms of the passing from Exeter that led to the try, because every team finds it difficult to stop the Chiefs when they are in this kind of form. However, there were some poor tackle attempts to stop Woodburn and Hogg getting through. We have already looked at the spaces left open between the Glasgow players, but this try was the first time it had led to anything, so they need to be aware of this going into future matches.
This image shows another situation where Exeter used the spaces to good effect, scoring a try from this move as well. Centre Ollie Devoto plays a grubber pass into the space behind, with Woodburn using his pace to meet it and get the ball over the line. Exeter had been playing through the phases a little before this happened, before stealing the ball back from Glasgow. Therefore, they can change their tactics to suit different situations in matches, and this is another reason that they are difficult to play against.
Exeter Chiefs’ strong defence
We have seen how Exeter Chiefs used clever attacking tactics to take advantage of the spaces Glasgow Warriors were leaving open. However, this type of play depends on having a solid defence, and this is another reason that Glasgow struggled to get into the game.
In this image, we can see the strong and organised structure that they had in this game. This is in the closing stages, but it typified their performance. Glasgow had some threatening runs at the end of the game, and we can see how they have a lot of space available to them in front of the Exeter line, but they could never break through them.
Whenever the ball came near the defence, the Chiefs tended to tackle in twos and threes, working together to push Glasgow back, and this helped to keep their tackle success rate in this game at a high level. South African forward Jannes Kirsten doesn’t always get credit for his work on the pitch, but everything good defensively in this game involved him. By getting involved in the defence as he did, Exeter gained more attacking chances, with the ball reaching the quicker players further up the pitch, again helping them to dominate the game.
Glasgow Warriors’ positive play
When it comes to Glasgow Warriors’ performance, there were some good points worth mentioning. These mainly came in the first half, with the second half more littered with errors. To start with, the image below shows how Glasgow picked up on an area where Exeter Chiefs did not look as strong.
This situation is in the very early stages of the game, and we can see how Exeter are defending quite narrowly, looking to stop Glasgow playing through the middle. However, this has left the space open on the wings, with three Warriors players now looking to receive the ball from fly-half Peter Horne and get behind the Chiefs’ defence. The ball is passed to centre Nick Grigg here, who is then taken down by the Exeter defenders.
There is a question of whether the ball could have been moved out to either of the other two players, which might have given Glasgow a better chance of scoring some points here. However, this attack showed the threat that the Warriors had in the squad, and how the Chiefs needed to be aware of leaving these spaces open, because Glasgow were looking to use them at every opportunity.
Here is another example of Glasgow attacking down the wing. Full-back Glenn Bryce, in the black circle, is playing a grubber pass into the space behind the Exeter defence, looking to allow his winger to get forward and score. However, the ball ends up going too far, and out of play. Whilst this didn’t lead to anything, it showed how Glasgow were looking to try things in the opening stages of the game. This is something they had to do, because of the difficulty of breaking Exeter down, especially in the phases. Therefore, it was not surprising that the Warriors looked to use any space they could find with attacking moves like these.
It wasn’t just in attack that they had a positive performance. We can see in this image how they defended resolutely at times as well, and this brings us to another key point about their play. We have looked already at how they left gaps between individual players when retreating backwards, but this image shows us how they set up with little to no space between them when they had time to, making it hard for the Chiefs to get through them. Therefore, we can see how they need to work on the transition from attack to defence, because this is where they tend to leave spaces open.
Glasgow Warriors’ errors
However, in the second half, there were more errors from Glasgow Warriors, which cost them any chance of getting on the scoreboard in this game.
In both of these images, we can see how Glasgow have a lineout, but in both situations, poor mistakes lead to Exeter Chiefs winning the ball too easily. Both lineouts are thrown too far by substitute hooker Grant Stewart, and caught by his opposite number and Exeter captain Jack Yeandle. In the first image, the ball is then moved up the line into the middle of the pitch, as Exeter looked to take advantage of this mishap in the Glasgow team.
However, in the second image, it leads to a very easy try for Exeter to score. As you can see, once Yeandle catches the ball, he runs and gets it over the try line, as shown by the white arrow. Given that this was the try that secured the bonus point for the Chiefs, it was a very costly error for the Warriors to make. It made it even worse that this came after a spell of really good defending from them, but also shows how, despite the positives we have already looked at in this analysis, Glasgow were being undone simply by their own errors, and the number and simplicity of them would have made it even worse for Warriors head coach Danny Wilson to witness from the stands.
Whilst the lineouts were causing plenty of problems for Glasgow, they weren’t the only source of trouble for them. In this image, we can see how they are in a good attacking position, with Tommy Seymour in possession, having come inside to find the ball and help his team out. To cover the space outside him, Sam Johnson has moved to offer the passing option, which Seymour takes. However, the pass is played behind Johnson, meaning that he needs to slow down, and loses momentum.
Had the pass been correct, Woodburn would have been isolated in a 2v1 situation, giving Glasgow the advantage, but, because the ball is behind him, Johnson ends up knocking the ball forwards in his attempts to gather it cleanly. Therefore, a good attacking situation has ended with the ball being easily given to Exeter Chiefs. There was some pressure from the Chiefs in forcing this error, but Glasgow had already made the mistake before this was applied.
There were plenty more mistakes made in the second half, and this section has shown how Glasgow Warriors were the makers of their own misfortune, and, when you look at some of the ways they gave the ball away, as well as the number of penalties they conceded, it is not hard to see why they didn’t score a single point against the English champions.
In conclusion, we have seen in this analysis how Exeter Chiefs played well and dominated the game, whilst Glasgow Warriors, despite having some promising moments in the first half, ultimately gave away too many penalties and made too many mistakes, which cost them. Aside from one kicking chance after a few minutes, which didn’t miss by much, they never looked like scoring in any way. This is something that they will really need to look at ahead of their second pool game next week, at home to Lyon, whilst Exeter will look to continue their good form away at Toulouse a day afterwards.