Glasgow dwell on positives after brave show at Saracens

Glasgow Warriors may not be taking winning momentum into next Friday night's Guinness Pro14 clash against the Ospreys at Scotstoun, but they will be encouraged by the nature of their performance '“ at least for the first 60 minutes '“ against English champions Saracens in their final European Champions Cup pool match at Allianz Park on Saturday.

DTH van der Merwe of Glasgow is tackled by Nick Tompkins, left, and Jackson Wray of Saracens at Allianz Park. Picture: Henry Browne/Getty
DTH van der Merwe of Glasgow is tackled by Nick Tompkins, left, and Jackson Wray of Saracens at Allianz Park. Picture: Henry Browne/Getty

With 11 minutes to go, Saracens held a narrow 24-19 lead in a match which both teams had thrown the kitchen sink at, but Warriors had now run out of steam and were holding on for dear life, before two late tries from man-of-the-match Maro Itoje and Will Skelton added a glossy sheen to the final result for the home side.

The 38-19 scoreline did not really do Glasgow’s contribution justice but, at the end of the day, the margin of defeat was academic. Warriors needed a comfortable win to finish top of the pool and secure a home quarter-final draw and that was always a long shot. With Ulster and Toulouse both doing what they needed to do in their final pool matches, not even a losing bonus point would have changed Warriors’ final seeding as eighth place qualifiers.

They will return to Barnet when the knock-out stages of this Champions Cup campaign commence at the end of March to play Saracens once again. It is going to be a tough mission, but head coach Dave Rennie says his team have nothing to fear, so long as they sharpen up on the errors which cost his team dearly.

“We’re very happy to be part of the mix going into the final eight,” he said, after Saturday’s defeat. “I thought we put out a pretty good show for a big chunk of that game, but in big games there are a lot of key moments and we fell off some tackles and turned over some pill which hurt us.

“The lineout didn’t function as well as we would have liked and losing Jonny Gray at half-time probably didn’t help us. So, there are a lot of things we can tidy up and coming back here we know we have to be better next time.”

Warriors knew that they were in the quarter-finals before kick-off, courtesy of Edinburgh’s win over Montpellier on Friday night, which killed off the French team’s hopes of sneaking in as one of the best performing runners-up at the end of the pool stage. It clearly grates a bit with Rennie, right, that their Scottish rivals have been able to take the credit for doing Glasgow a favour.

“We got 19 points on our own, that’s why we are in the play-offs,” he asserted. “I know there’s a lot of people in the capital who want to talk about that but, in the end, it has been a tough pool. Lyon are a good side doing well in France, Saracens are obviously very strong and Cardiff are a good team too, so we’ve done pretty well to make it through.”

Rennie will not be around when Warriors return to Guinness Pro14 action against Ospreys on Friday. He flew home to New Zealand straight after Saturday’s game for his son’s wedding, but the Kiwi coach does not expect his absence to impact the team’s preparation or performance.

“My son is getting married this coming Saturday. He arranged the wedding based on what I told him, which was that there was no game arranged next weekend so if he is going to get married he should do it on the 26th, then three-weeks later we were told that the Welsh teams wanted a game moved away from the end of the Six Nations, so all of a sudden we’ve got a game,” explained Rennie. “We’ll be fine. Kenny [Murray] will be in charge so there will be a Scotsman at the helm. I will be watching the game live. It will be at half past eight in the morning back home. I don’t need to be in Kenny’s ear, passing things on, but I will be watching closely.”

It remains to be seen how many national squad players will be released back for the match, but Rennie says he is confident that there is enough depth within his set-up to cope with the need to wrap players in cotton wool ahead of the Six Nations, despite the complicating factor of a fairly lengthy list of injured players which already includes Fraser Brown, George Turner, Zander Fagerson, Matt Fagerson, Callum Gibbins and Peter Horne, with Ryan Wilson, 
Jonny Gray and Grant Stewart possibly joining that group after 
picking up shoulder knocks on Saturday.

“Jonny’s shoulder just got really weak halfway through the first half and he gutsed it out to half-time,” explained the coach.

“Ryan was a shoulder as well, he took a knock late in the first half and stiffened up over half-time. Grant had an issue with his AC last weekend so again he was gutsing through it. Hopefully they’re not too bad. They’re going into camp with Scotland so hopefully they’ll be fine.

“I still reckon we are going to have a good squad. We have got good depth and we’ve played a lot of footie without our international boys and we’ve played well, so we’ve got good confidence in the group.

“Ospreys are a good side and, a bit like Saracens, they will kick a lot and try to shape us. I think we did a lot of really good stuff today on the counter, especially in the first half, and we’ll try to do the same again next week,” he concluded.