Hooker Fraser Brown admits that Glasgow were overawed the last time they met Saracens in Europe and has vowed that there will be a more composed approach to Sunday’s vital Heineken Champions Cup Pool 3 opener at Scotstoun.
Brown was part of the Warriors team which travelled to London in April 2017 for the historic first ever quarter-final appearance in Europe’s elite club competition.
Coach Gregor Townsend had finally managed to get Glasgow out of the notoriously tough group stage approaching the end of his tenure before taking over the Scotland reins.
Saracens were reigning champions but, after emerging from a testing group with home and away wins over both Leicester Tigers and Racing 92, Glasgow’s hopes were high that they could move to within one match of a final that was due to be played at BT Murrayfield.
Ultimately, on a warm spring Sunday afternoon in north London, the Scots were dealt a harsh lesson on the high standards of knockout European rugby as they flopped to a 38-13 defeat.
“It was physical. I remember it pretty well,” recalled Brown. “Not just the game, but the whole week in general. I think we probably got our build-up a little bit wrong, we focused a bit too much on them and not ourselves.
“We do our due diligence on teams, scouting them properly and getting good analysis, but it’s really important this week that we focus on ourselves, our setpiece, our defence and how we can unlock the Sarries defence with our attack.
“The setpiece will be a big battleground. They’ve got a strong lineout and a strong line-out drive defensively from our point of view, but it’s important to make sure our scrum and line-out function properly and give us the ball to allow us to move them around, keep possession and play in their areas of the pitch.”
The formidable Saracens pack and attack will provide the biggest test for Dave Rennie’s men this season, but Glasgow can look back to an impressive Guinness Pro14 showing at home to Munster last month as a confidence booster.
“We’ve made pretty good strides from where we were last year, both attack and defence,” said Brown.
“We’ve had a couple of disappointments when our drill hasn’t been great, mostly in attack, but we’ve had a big focus on training through the week to push up standards wherever possible and that has a knock-on effect at the weekend. If you drive that from the start of the week and make sure we’re really efficient there, then come game day we’re operating with a little tiny margin of error and that’s where we want to be.
“Defensively it’s not just stopping the drive, it’s the defensive line-out and putting pressure on there. Ryan Wilson, Jonny Gray and Rob Harley all put in a lot of work there and we’ve got one of the top line-out defences in the league at the minute, so that’s an area we’ll look to take on.”
This time of the rugby year, with the start of a European campaign and looming autumn Tests, is always an enticing prospect and Scotland hooker Brown can’t wait for kick-off on Sunday afternoon.
“The Champions Cup has always been a difficult competition for us,” he said. “Just in general the last couple of years, but it’s always a huge challenge for us, particularly with Sarries at home to start. We’re looking forward to it.”