GLASGOW produced a stirring display in the London sunshine yesterday to rattle one of English rugby's top sides but, ultimately, they lacked the finish to see off Saracens and claim an historic first European semi-final appearance for Scottish rugby.
At 13-0 down after just 16 minutes Sean Lineen's team appeared to be in danger of being comprehensively run out of the European Challenge Cup, especially when one considers the muscle, financial and squad-wise, in a club boasting Andy Farrell, Thomas Castaignede, Richard Hill and an experienced Test-hardened front row.
But the manner in which the relatively young Glasgow pack refused to be bullied by the powerful home eight, Alastair Kellock and Andy Newman competed well in the lineout to stop Sarries at source and Dan Parks strived to trouble the hosts' backs with a variety of attacking ideas, explained how they fought back and took this nail-biter to the wire.
The dejected looks on the Glasgow faces at the finish, their bodies weary from nearly 90 minutes of rugby in the sun, told the story of how agonisingly close they had come to pulling off, arguably, Scottish pro rugby's biggest result yet.
Alan Gaffney, Saracens' Australian coach, paid tribute to Glasgow's performance afterwards, stating, intriguingly, that they play with Edinburgh's lan but more control.
That was of no comfort to Lineen, Glasgow's head coach. He said: "I feel pride in the way the guys played, I just wish they could have played it for 80 minutes. There is only a nine-point spread across the three games between us this season which shows how close we're getting, but it's hugely disappointing not to reach the semi-final."
Glasgow had lost 28-23 in the pool clash here in October and drew 6-6 at Hughenden, showing their ability against a team currently third in the Guinness Premiership. But not for the first time this season, Scottish supporters were left ruing player mistakes. Glen Jackson had rewarded the hosts' good start with two penalties before a Parks pass was intercepted by his opposite number, who sent wing Dan Scarbrough in for the try.
However, Glasgow stepped up. With Kellock revelling in the lineout battle with fellow Scot Iain Fullarton and powerful Fijian captain Simon Raiwalui, and the team running with real intent, Saracens did not have things all their way. But their defence seemed as impenetrable as the SRU's financial problems and the Scots' only points came from Parks' right boot, virtue of two penalties after 22 and 26 minutes.
A great break by Andy Henderson, the centre slicing through Saracens wide on the left, lifted Glasgow again, but Scarbrough nipped in to steal the pass to Thom Evans, the flying winger, who would almost certainly have scored from 20 metres.
Jackson and Parks swapped penalties, the Glasgow fly-half missing another, for Saracens to lead 16-9 at half-time. Lineen sent on Donnie Macfadyen, the international flanker, for Barclay and with Euan Murray, the tighthead prop, continuing to put in thundering tackles there was a tenacity about the visitors which promised more.
A fine backs move, with Parks looping, had Saracens scrambling to get to Evans on the left wing, but he was squeezed out, while a free-for-all scrap in-field resulted in yellow cards for Richard Hill, Sarries' Lions flanker, and Beattie.
A superb break by Rory Lamont shredded the Sarries defence on halfway, but he delayed his pass to Macfadyen, fatally, and it was intercepted by Jackson when he did deliver. And Saracens took advantage. Andy Farrell, the England centre making his return from injury, broke Glasgow's defence inside the 22 and off-loaded to Kameli Ratuvou, the Fijian wing, who raced around behind Glasgow's posts, Jackson converting for a 23-9 lead.
Glasgow roared back, however, when first Graeme Morrison broke a tackle and then Lamont displayed a great turn of pace to outrun the cover from 35 metres and score behind the posts. Parks converted and at 23-19 the game was back within Glasgow's sights.
Saracens battered at the Glasgow 22, but the Scots stood firm to take the game into the last few minutes delicately balanced. Lineen sent on fresh legs in the shape of Colin Gregor for Morrison and Andrew Wilson for Swindall, but Glasgow's failure to hold onto possession, and concede penalties, undid their good work.
There was a frightening moment with four minutes remaining when Henderson was left grounded in a ruck, and staggered violently and fell when he tried to run back into position. Seemingly concussed, he was eventually helped from the field, smiling and nodding he was okay, but his legs saying something else.
Glasgow worked tirelessly to keep the ball alive in injury time, but, running on empty, could not pierce the Saracens defence one last time. Agonisingly, Sarries' Scottish-qualified prop Nick Lloyd stole Glasgow ball five metres from the hosts' line, and the final whistle signalled relief to Saracens and another dose of heartache to Scottish rugby.
Scorers: Saracens: Tries: Scarbrough, Ratuvou. Pens: Jackson (3). Cons: Jackson (2). Glasgow: Try: Lamont. Pens: Parks (4). Con: Parks.
Saracens: T Castaignede; D Scarbrough, K Sorrell, A Farrell, K Ratuvou; G Jackson, N de Kock; K Yates, S Byrne, C Johnson, I Fullarton, S Raiwalui (capt), K Chesney, B Skirving, R Hill. Subs: M Cairns for Byrne 60mins, N Lloyd for Yates, T Ryder for Fullarton, both 64, P Gustard for Hill 66.
Glasgow: R Lamont; H O'Hare, G Morrison, A Henderson, T Evans; D Parks, G Beveridge; J Va'a, F Thomson, E Murray, A Newman, A Kellock (capt), S Swindall, J Beattie, J Barclay. Subs: D Macfadyen for Barclay 40mins, S Lawson for Thomson, K Tkachuk for Va'a, both 53, C Gregor for Morrison 70, A Wilson for Swindall 71, C Shaw for Henderson 76.
Referee: C Berdos (France).Attendance: 4,259.