Familiarity breeds contempt, and while that might be slightly too strong a word to describe the relationship between Glasgow Warriors and Saracens, two previous ferocious encounters between them in the pool stage of this season’s European Champions Cup has added an extra edge to this Saturday’s quarter-final clash.
Warriors head coach Dave Rennie was icy at yesterday’s press briefing when the subject of Saracens’ gamesmanship was brought up.
“Often, if they make an error it’s followed by a lot of push and shove from them to maybe bring the referee in to change a decision – we can’t afford to get sucked into that sort of stuff,” said the New Zealander.
Asked if he thought that was a deliberate ploy, Rennie gave a one-word response: “Absolutely.”
Asked if he had seen other teams do it, he stated: “I’ve seen Saracens do it. Saracens against every other side they play.”
So, what can his Warriors do in response? Rennie would not be drawn but insisted that he had faith that experienced referee Nigel Owens would be able to interpret any skulduggery, and added that it was also up to the players to respond correctly.
Rennie said: “We can’t be passive, but we’ve got to be smart around that sort of thing
“We saw it out here [at Scotstoun, in round one of this year’s European Champions Cup campaign]. We had a decision went our way and then a bit of push and shove, and Fraser Brown got penalised, and they got three points out of it. It’s clearly a ploy.
“Nigel’s pretty smart, he won’t get sucked into that. He’s an experienced ref, so we’re not even sending any clips in about Saracens. He’s been around a long time… he’s good enough, hopefully, to make the right decisions at the right time and we’ll trust his judgement.”
Ahead of the showdown at Allianz Park in North London, Rennie reported good news on the injury front, explaining that scrum-half George Horne will definitely be back from a shoulder injury.
Full-back Stuart Hogg is expected – but not 100 per cent certain – to return (also from a shoulder injury) and winger Tommy Seymour is in with a shout having missed the end of Scotland’s Six Nations campaign with a rib injury.
“Medically, we think Stuart’s shoulder is going to be fine,” said Rennie.
“He’s done a lot of work and he was close to playing last weekend. He’s ticked all the boxes, so the expectation is that he’ll be good to play against Saracens.
“He did contact late last week, so he’s just got to get a bit more footie into him. But, medically, he’s ticked all the boxes.
“We’re not too worried about Tommy’s ability to slot straight back in,” added the head coach.
“We’re obviously conscious of the fact that it’s a massive game for us and we don’t want to be waiting until the 11th hour to make a decision.We’ve got good depth in and around that position, so we’ll probably make a call on it by Thursday.
George’s brother Peter Horne, who picked up a knee injury during the team’s bonus-point Pro14 victory over the Toyota Cheetahs on Saturday night, is also looking positive.
“We’re confident that he’s going to be OK to play,” said Rennie. “He didn’t train today (Tuesday), but he should be back out running on Thursday.”
Saracens came out in top in both the previous encounters this season, and Rennie expects the English Champions to be an even tougher nut to crack this weekend.
However, he insisted that his team is good enough and tough enough to achieve what would be a major upset and reach the Champions Cup semi-finals.
“They were two pretty brutal encounters when we played them in the pool stage but there’s no doubt this game will be more intense than any game we’ve played this year,” said Rennie.
“That’s what happens when you get into knockout footie, there’s a lot on the line and there’s no tomorrow for one of the teams. So, we expect it to ramp up even more than the games we played against them earlier in the season. We’re steeling ourselves up for a brutal encounter.
“But when we controlled the ball and controlled the pace of the game down there, we were able to put them under a fair bit of pressure.
“Sarries have a very structured game and they’re probably going to kick a lot of ball to us.
“They’re very good at choking teams, so our discipline needs to be good. It was really just in the last 15 minutes or so that we lost the territory battle. We turned a bit of pill over, played the game at the wrong end of the field and they eventually punished us.
“So, we need to be at our best for 80 minutes.”