IT has been suggested in recent weeks that Glasgow Warriors’ refusal (or inability) to tone down their zest for adventure when under pressure could be a fatal flaw in their quest to become a genuine big-hitter in the European game – but club co-captain Ryan Wilson says the biggest mistake the team could make would be to move away from their expansive philosophy.
Wilson was in the number seven jersey the last time Warriors visited Allianz Park, at the quarter-final stage of the 2016-17 Champions Cup, and his recollections of that 38-13 defeat provides the basis of his belief that his team must stay true to themselves when they return to Barnet this Saturday.
“I think that week we changed quite a lot, which was quite strange because when you get to a quarter-final you want to try and play the way that got you there,” he said. “So, that’s something we’ve learned from – we’ve said we want to go down there and play the game we want to play, stick to our systems and not change anything for them.
“It could have been that we focussed a little bit too much on them. You know what it’s like in these big games, you start to try to pick everything up – but, listen, the game is pretty simple: if you go out there and get front foot ball and play in the right areas then you are going to win the game nine times out of ten. So, we are going to focus on ourselves.”
The two sides also met earlier this season, in round one of this Champions Cup pool phase, and although the English champions came out on top again on that occasion, it was a much tighter contest with Saracens having to dig deep to edge a 3-13 win at Scotstoun. It may not have been the sort of high-scoring affair we have come to expect from the Warriors, but the general tenor of the game bolstered Wilson’s certainty that his side must continue to hit and move in order to get their dangerous runners into the game as often as is reasonably possible.
“It came down to two or three key chances that we should have taken, and we didn’t,” he reflected. “So, we’ve got to be clinical when we get down there, and make sure we come away with points every time we get into their 22.
“If we get things right, and get quick ball on the front foot, then we’re going to win games because we have the attacking threat.
“Then, on the defensive side of things, we need to make sure that we are on point because they’ve got a dangerous attack, and they’ve got a brilliant kick-chase, so Saracens will be looking to put pressure on us there.”
Learning from adversity
The questions about Warriors’ approach arose because of a fairly significant blip in form during December which saw the team lose three games on the bounce, against Edinburgh twice and then Treviso. Their wide game was suffocated by aggressive defence in those matches, and without the firepower to go through the middle of their opponents they ended up committing a number of costly errors trying to force the issue.
“Sometimes defeat can be a more positive thing than going out and winning, and I think it has been pretty positive on us,” reflected Wilson. “We have tried to look at it as a lesson in what we need to change and treat it almost as a kick in the backside to switch us on to what we are trying to achieve.
“I don’t think we got too comfortable, but we just needed something to help us refocus.”
The team returned to winning ways last weekend in their penultimate Champions Cup pool match against Cardiff Blues, with their driving game key to getting them over the line in treacherous conditions. While it was encouraging that Warriors found a way to get the result they needed in that game, there is no escaping the fact that this was against an understrength opposition who were already out of the tournament. Getting into an arm-wrestle with Saracens – who have one of the biggest and meanest packs in European rugby – would almost certainly not end as positively.
Fighting fire with fire
There was plenty of niggle when the two sides met back in October, and the combative Wilson was never far from the flashpoints. Saracens have already qualified for the quarter-finals, but need a win to secure a home draw, so there is plenty for both teams to play for, which means another explosive clash is on the cards – and you can bet your last dollar that Wilson will be front and centre when the handbags fly.
“You think that because I’m mostly involved in it, but maybe that’s because I’m provoked,” protested the 29-year-old back-rower, in mock indignation. “They come up against us and say: He’s the guy who is mostly involved in it so let’s get stuck into him.
“Listen, we know that they are going to be physical this week, and they are probably one of the worst teams for mouthing off and celebrating in your face, so we’re going to go down there and embrace it.
“Yes, I enjoy it,” he then conceded. “It became a bit of a joke in that last game because it must have been every five minutes play stopped because of pushing and shoving, but I don’t mind it. It is part of the game. I’m sure we’ll see plenty of it from them [on Saturday] … not from us!”