Glasgow Warriors make strong statement with Racing 92 triumph
Perhaps the sweetest part of Glasgow's famous victory in Paris was that it was almost entirely unexpected.
After all, what evidence was there to suggest that such a seismic result was in the offing? Warriors had lost their last three Pro12 matches, with some truly wretched performances. Their previous Champions Cup outing had been a Thomond Park thumping at the hands of an inspired Munster.
Yes, Gregor Townsend was able to strengthen his side with the returning Scotland stars Zander Fagerson, Jonny Gray, Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg, but did many really expect them to turn over Racing 92, the French champions, on their own patch?
Townsend described Saturday's 23-14 win as the second best of his tenure as head coach, behind only the 2015 Pro12 final win against Munster.
This has to go down as Glasgow's finest win in Europe, in part because of the standard of the opposition, and also down to the nature of the victory.
This was no smash-and-grab or backs-to-the-wall job. Warriors came to Paris and did a number on one of the powerhouses of the European game.
There were 64 minutes between Dan Carter's conversion of Juan Imhoff's try and the All Blacks legend dancing through the visitors defence to reduce the arrears for Racing late on.
In that hour-and-a-bit of rugby, Glasgow prevented the champions of France and last season's Champions Cup finalists from troubling the scoreboard - the hosts did not manage one point in that period.
It was a period of near perfect defence and smart game-management. Glasgow enjoyed 50% of possession and 52% territory in the first half, which dropped to 31% and 36% after the break. And yet they were rarely camped near their own line and out-scored the hosts by 10 points to seven in that second 40 minutes.
The half-back pairing of Ali Price and Finn Russell played with maturity and composure. Their decision-making on when to attack and when to play the percentages was spot on and contributed significantly to the win.
Does Gray ever miss a tackle?
In the pack, the quietly devastating effectiveness of Gray was once again to the fore.
The Warriors skipper has not missed a tackle in 750 minutes of international rugby. Here it was a perfect 19 from 19, more than anybody else on the pitch. He also topped Glasgow's list for ball-carries with nine.
Gray is not a guy whose voice you will hear booming around the ground as he rallies his troops, but his inspiration as a leader lies in his deeds. His appetite to put in the hard yards and the hard tackles, get up and do it over and over again, all for the greater good, marks him out as a second row of the highest calibre.
Gray said after the match how much he had enjoyed going up against 'Naks', his friend and former second row partner Leone Nakarawa. He described the Racing lock as a "world-class player" and, while that is certainly true, it was the Fijian who was outclassed by his Scottish counterpart. Gray now also belongs in that world-class bracket.
And although the second row positions will be the most fiercely contested when it comes to selection for the British and Irish Lions tour in the summer, can Warren Gatland really ignore the 22-year-old's sustained excellence?
As Townsend touched on after the match, Gray had plenty of support in snuffing out the threat of the Parisian superstars.
"There were other key leaders there today," Townsend said. " The young half-backs stood up really well, Ryan Wilson at number eight is a key leader for us.
High hopes at halfway
"When you've got Jonny, Rob Harley and Simone (Favaro) in your team, if someone does make a mistake defensively, they're going to get there and tidy it up. It's really reassuring for a coach knowing that those guys are putting in the effort for their team-mates."
The Glasgow coach will also be delighted that their ropey run of form has been ended in thrilling style. But as Townsend conceded, it could count for little if Warriors fail to back up this memorable win with another in the reverse fixture at Scotstoun on Friday night.
The opportunity is there for Glasgow to make history by qualifying from their pool for the first time. However, this is just the halfway stage. They face a Racing side out for revenge, a rejuvenated Munster and a trip to Leicester to finish the group.
If they perform like they did in Paris, then nothing in this tournament, in the pool stage and beyond, should hold any fears for them.