Glasgow Warriors 19
DAVID BARNES @ Allianz Park
A WHIRLWIND of a first half, a ferociously competitive second half which threatened to boil over a couple of times towards the end, provided a compelling afternoon of rugby in north London. Ultimately, Warriors walked away with nothing from the contest, meaning that they will probably return to this venue at the end of March to face the same opposition in the quarter-finals of this season’s Champions Cup – although that may change if Ulster and Toulouse fail to deliver in their final pool matches.
On the evidence of the first hour, Dave Rennie’s men can believe that they have a chance if they do indeed come up against the English champions once again, but you can’t help wondering if Saracens have an extra gear when everything is on the line. Certainly, it was the home team who finished the stronger of the two sides, with Maro Itoje and Will Skelton going across for late tries which added gloss to the final scoreline for the home side.
It got off to an inauspicious start for Warriors when a Grant Stewart line-out over-throw gifted Saracens possession which they used to attack from deep, with Liam Williams’ chip ahead forcing Ali Price to kick the ball dead to concede a scrum five, which gave the hosts the platform which delivered the first points of the match through a Ben Spencer offside penalty.
Saracens extended their lead to ten points with just under 10 minutes played when David Strettle burst through Adam Hastings and then fed Spencer on his inside for a straight forward run-in, with the scrum-half adding the conversion to his own try for good measure.
The visitors bounced right back when, three minutes later, Sam Johnson’s long flat pass to Stuart Hogg cut out Saracens’ aggressive midfield defence, and the full-back added just enough pace to suck in his man before releasing Tommy Seymour for ta try on the right. Hastings couldn’t add the conversion, but Warriors were right back in it.
And they were more than just back in it five minutes later, when Rob Harley got a paw in the way of Spencer’s clearance and Price picked up the loose ball to scuttle home from 20-yards. This time Hastings nailed the supplementary points.
It was helter-skelter stuff and, when Saracens caught Warriors out with a quick tap penalty, it looked like Alex Lewington was going to go over in the corner, but Hogg got across to make the last-ditch tackle. It was only a temporary reprieve for the visitors, with Saracens going back to an earlier penalty which was kicked to the corner, and Vincent Koch getting the ball down after a 10-man (at least) effort rumbled the line-out ball over the chalk.
Now it was time for Warriors to surge again, with Hastings showing that his recent travails have not doused his impetuosity, with a long, looping, wobbling pass sending Tommy Seymour on a dash towards the lune. The winger was stopped just short but from the quick recycle, Ryan Wilson arrived on the scene like a runaway train to burst over the line.
It looked like George Kruis had restored Saracens lead when he brushed past Hogg and rampaged to the line, but after a lengthy conversation with the Television Match Official, referee Pascal Gauzère ruled that Hastings had managed to dislodge the ball as the second-row dived for the line. Once again, it was a temporary reprieve, with Saracens being awarded the scrum and Billy Vunipola blasting through Chris Fusaro and Hastings to score on a number eight pick-up.
Warriors started the second half well, with a Stewart interception in midfield a precursor to a period of pressure which featured an excellent carry from Johnson, but Saracens scrambled well to snuff out the danger. Warriors continued to press, and were even awarded their first two penalties of the match – slightly surprising given the lorryload which had gone the other way – but they couldn’t unpick the lock, and slowly but surely Saracens came back into it.
Itoje managed to rip the ball from Matt Smith and a long clearance sent Hastings scuttling back deep into his 22. The ball wouldn’t quite bounce for the stand-off, and he ended up conceding a knock-on scrum. Big question marks continue to hang over the Warriors set-piece, but they got it right here, with a pulverising drive forcing the retreating Saracens eight to concede a penalty. It was a satisfying small victory for the visiting forwards, but the overall tide of this game had shifted away from them.
It took until the 69th minute, but there was a growing sense of inevitability about who was going to get the first points of the second penalty, with Billy Vunipola, Jamie George and Will Skelton all using their pace and power to offload out of contact before Itoje galloped home.
Saracens – via Richard Barrington – got over the line again but Tim Swinson did exceptionally well to position his arm between the ball and the turf and the score was not given. However, the pressure didn’t subside and Skelton got try number five right at the death.
Saracens: L Williams; D Strettle (A Lozowski 16), N Tompkins, B Barritt, A Lewington (M Gallacher 75); A Goode, B Spencer (R Wigglesworth 52); M Vunipola (R Barrington 71), J George (C Tolofua 76), V Koch (C Judge 64), M Itoje, G Kruis, J Wray (W Skelton 58), S Burger (C Clark 52), B Vunipola.
Glasgow Warriors: S Hogg; T Seymour (N Matawalu 64), N Grigg, S Johnson (H Jones 50), D van der Merwe; A Hastings, A Price (G Horne 64); O Kebble, G Stewart (K Bryce 52), S Halanukonuka (D Rae 70), T Swinson, J Gray (A Ashe 40), R Harley, C Fusaro, R Wilson (M Smith 46).
Referee: Pascal Gauzère (France).
Saracens: Tries: Spencer, Koch, Vunipola, Itoje, Skelton; Cons: Spencer 3, Lozowski; Pen: Spencer.
Glasgow Warriors: Tries: Hastings, Price, Wilson; Con: Hastings 2.
Scoring sequence (Saracens first): 3-0; 8-0; 10-0; 10-5; 10-10; 10-12; 15-12; 17-12; 17-17; 17-19; 22-19; 24-19 (h-t) 29-19; 31-19.
More to follow …