Glasgow were left empty-handed in their Heineken Champions Cup Pool 3 opener after being beaten 13-3 by a streetwise Saracens at Scotstoun today.
A bruising battle which included a scoreless second half was decided by an early try by flanker Mike Rhodes and the boot of England and Lions stand-off Owen Farrell.
The Warriors were competitive for spells and at times excellent in defence but failed to take points during their rare moments of ascendancy and now face a big challenge to get out of a group which also includes next opponents Cardiff, who won in Lyon.
Glasgow spurned an early opportunity to take the lead in the seventh minute after some positive intent earned them a very kickable penalty. Adam Hastings shanked it wide, though, and the home side soon found themselves on the back foot and forced into desperate defending.
Saracens clicked impressively into gear and stretched Glasgow right and then left, working a glaring overlap to send openside Rhodes diving over in the corner.
England stand-off Farrell slotted the conversion superbly and soon had a chance to extend the lead with an offside penalty 40 metres out, which he sent soaring between the posts.
An already daunting task was suddenly looking even more steep and Glasgow were struggling to impose themselves, facing a brick red wall when they did get their hands on the ball.
Their best passage of play thus far was put together in the 19th minute but came to an end with another fumbled knock on. Glasgow did get off the mark a couple of minutes later when Hastings got his radar back with a better strike from almost the same spot he had missed from previously.
Hastings then showed some dash with ball in hand as his initial break had his side on the charge, pinning Sarries back before the English side countered with venom.
An exquisite inside flick from right wing David Strettle kept the ball alive and soon the hefty forwards were bursting holes in the Warriors rearguard before a timely penalty relieved the pressure.
A flurry of injury stoppages, one of which led to Pete Horne coming on for Alex Dunbar in the home midfield, took the heat out of the game just as Saracens had been simmering to the boil.
Tempers on both sides bubbled up heading into the final few minutes after Glasgow won a scrum following another sustained barrage from the two-time European champions, The fracas resulted in French ref Mathieu Raynal instead awarding a penalty to the visitors, which Farrell accepted with ease.
Another trip to the TMO stretched the half’s real-time duration beyond 50 minutes, the resulting penalty giving Glasgow to finish on the attack. With another penalty coming it was free ball for the Scots but the crossfield kick didn’t come off, so another drive from the lineout it was.
Scotstoun found its voice as the screw was turned and then exploded as DTH van der Merwe jinked his way over.
Jeers turned to cheers, however, when the try was chalked off for an earlier infringement.
As the second half got under way you felt that the next score would be pivotal and it was Saracens who re-asserted themselves, driving Glasgow back on their line before Ruaridh Jackson was able to boot clear after co-captain Callum Gibbins engineered a welcome turnover.
Sarries, who lost both Vunipolas, Mako and Billy to injury, continued to boss possession as a big cheer welcomed new tighthead Petrus du Plessis being introduced in the 54th minute for a Glasgow debut against his former club, with whom he won three English and two European titles.
Strettle and scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth worked the next dangerous Saracens attack but the Glasgow defence was fierce and committed. Another turnover was worked and Lee Jones’ admirable chase forced Rhodes into touch.
The Warriors finally managed to keep ball, stringing together 14 phases before Jackson’s teasing grubber failed to come off.
It was high intensity, attritional stuff, with Maro Itoje receiving a badly bloodied nose as the hand to hand combat rolled along.
Heading into the last 15 minutes the half remained scoreless and the deficit still ten points, Farrell having a rare miss with a penalty shot that fell short.
Huw Jones and Lee Jones got the home crowd back on their feet with a surging break which was halted by Alex Goode’s fine covering tackle.
Glasgow were on top and sub hooker George Turner was the next to break the line but he couldn’t find a team-mate with an unnecessary offload attempt.
With Itoje back on, the occasional bouts of handbags returned. Hastings was unable to push his penalty to the corner close enough to the Sarries line at a time when the losing bonus point was three points away, and Turner messed up a lineout throw to see possession squandered again.
With six minutes to go, Farrell and Co celebrated a penalty concession by Glasgow as if they sensed the job was now almost done.
As the clock ticked down Hastings found a better touch with the last push to take something from the game but the young stand-off was then wayward with a forward pass and Saracens closed things out.
Scorers: Glasgow: Pen: Hastings.
Saracens: Try: Rhodes; Con: Farrell; Pens: Farrell (2)