Glasgow Warriors 3
DAVID BARNES @ Scotstoun
FUNDAMENTALLY, rugby is still a pretty simple game. The power, controlled aggression and unyielding commitment to the cause of the English champions was enough to see them home against a Warriors team who fought bravely but couldn’t punch with quite enough power and accuracy to force their bigger and more experienced opponents onto the ropes.
It was a pretty fractious affair with several flare-ups between the two sides, which can be taken as evidence of how hard Warriors pushed Saracens. It was a gritty team performance from Dave Rennie’s men, however, a lack of composure – in both attack and defence – at key moments cost them dearly.
Six of Saracens’ points came from Owen Farrell’s trusty boot after French referee Mathieu Reynal ruled that Warriors were guilty of starting minor altercations, and the Scotstoun faithful made their displeasure at those decisions clear with a cacophony of booing – but, ultimately, the home team put themselves in a position to be ruled against so have nobody to blame but themselves.
Warriors’ determination not to be bullied was admirable, but a really streetwise team gets their point across without provoking the referee to rule against them. Saracens’ ability – typified by man-of-the-match Maro Itoje – to bend the rules without quite overstepping the mark was crucial.
Meanwhile, mercurial stand-off Adam Hastings fluffed a kick at goal early on, missed touch with a penalty to the corner, and had a few aimless clearances in broken play. His physical bravery and willingness to have a go from anywhere on the park meant Saracens had to be on their toes throughout, but isolated flashes of brilliance only go so far against the best teams in Europe – sometimes you need to play the percentages and build pressure incrementally.
It started brightly for the home side, with Huw Jones weaving his way up field in the opening minutes, and Hastings getting that chance to open the scoring – but when his shot at goal was pushed to the right of the posts, Saracens responded in emphatic style, with a sweeping attack spearheaded by Sean Maitland on the left wing taking the English champions into the Warriors 22 for the first time. Alex Lozowski may have strayed into touch when keeping the move going but it wasn’t called by the officials, and openside flanker Michael Rhodes scored on an overlap a few sharp phases later.
Owen Farrell nailed the touchline conversion, and Saracens extended their lead on 15 minutes with a penalty after a minor fracas in the middle of the park which Raynal decided Warriors had instigated without the need to confer with the TMO.
To their credit, Warriors refused to be rattled, and Hastings was bang on the money when he was handed another opportunity to get his team off the mark on 21 minutes (after Itoje took out Ali Price at a ruck in front of the posts).
Hastings then showed how dangerous he can be with the ball in hand when breaking 25-yards straight off the back of a scrum, but Warriors couldn’t keep hold of possession long enough to build real pressure, although it should be said that Saracens had similar issues when they got into the strike zone a few minutes later.
Farrell extended Saracens’ lead just before the break when Raynal reversed an offside penalty because Fraser Brown had instigated another unsavoury – but generally harmless – shoving match.
Warriors spent the last couple of minutes of the first half camped on Saracens’ line. Hastings kicked three penalties to the corner in search of seven rather than three points, and the home team seemed to get their reward when DTH van der Merwe ducked and danced his way over, but Reynal has already blown for a penalty conceded by the home team at the preceding ruck.
Warriors huffed and puffed – and showed plenty of desire in trying to break from their own 22 at the start of the second half – but they were running into a brick wall. They did have a short spell of territorial pressure when Rhodes made a mess of tidying up Hastings’ speculative kick ahead but were repelled by some more thunderous tackling and ferocious breakdown work from the visitors.
After a long-range penalty effort from Farrell fell short, Warriors did finally manage to open Saracens up when Pete Horne’s quick 22 restart gamble paid off, allowing Lee Jones and George Horne to streak up the left-hand side of the park, before eventually being closed down buy some frantic Saracens scrambling.
Invigorated by that chink of light, Warriors upped the ante again in a desperate push for the score which would get them a losing bonus point. Hooker George Turner found space on the short side of a ruck, but once again Saracens recovered to snuff out the danger.
With just under ten minutes to go, Warriors had a chance to kick a penalty which would get them within seven points but were not ready to settle for a losing bonus point so went for the corner. It didn’t work out. The second half ended scoreless.
Saracens got the victorious start they were after. Warriors must now win in Cardiff next Sunday to keep their European dream alive.
Glasgow Warriors: R Jackson; L Jones, H Jones, A Dunbar (P Horne 33), D van der Merwe (R Hughes 63); A Hastings, A Price (G Horne 63); O Kebble (A Allan 63), F Brown (G Turner 44), D Rae (P du Plessis 53), R Harley (G Peterson 74), J Gray, R Wilson (C Fusaro 59), C Gibbins, M Fagerson.
Saracens: A Goode; D Strettle (A Lewington 74), A Lozowski, B Barrett, S Maitland; O Farrell, R Wigglesworth (B Spencer 60); M Vunipola (R Barrington 21), J George, V Koch (T Lamositele 59), W Skelton (N Isiekwe 56, C Tolofua 74), G Kruis, M Itoje, M Rhodes, W Vunipola (J Wray 50).
Referee: M Raynal (France).
Glasgow Warriors: Pen: Hastings.
Saracens: Tries: Rhodes; Con: Farrell; Pen: Farrell 2.
Scoring sequence (Warriors first): 0-5; 0-7; 0-10; 3-10; 3-13 (h-t & f-t)