Glasgow and Saracens have enjoyed some great ding-dong battles in the last couple of years but, sadly, Saturday’s Champions Cup quarter-final was not one of them. The Warriors peaked a little too early, enjoying almost total dominance for the opening two minutes by which time they had scored and converted the first try of the match thanks to Ali Price. After that, not so clever.
The ease with which Saracens responded just two minutes later when Wales’ Grand Slam-winning full-back Liam Williams claimed a high ball under the Glasgow sticks was a little ominous and thereafter the two-time champions gave every impression they will be three-time winners when this campaign is wrapped up.
When Sarries are in the mood there are few clubs in Europe who can live with them but at times Glasgow seemed determined to flatter their hosts. The visitors’ defensive shape was poor, the lack of urgency to regroup allowed David Strettle’s first try and Rory Hughes was unable to deal with the aerial bombs Saracens sent his way. The whole team’s tackling fell away in the second half as Glasgow tired and Stuart Hogg’s kicking from hand was woeful.
“He’s disappointed with his kicking game,” conceded coach Dave Rennie. “He kicked three out on the full and he missed touch a couple of times from penalties.
“All those little things, they push you back. Nah, we’ll forgive him and I imagine he’ll he benefit from the 80 minutes under his belt.”
After Price’s opening score Saracens responded with three first-half tries of their own. Strettle and Brad Barritt followed Williams over the line with Alex Lowzowski adding two conversions and one penalty.
Adam Hastings added two penalties, one of them a monster, to Glasgow’s tally and the visitors rallied just before half-time with some of their best play which could have resulted in another try had Hughes’ inside pass found a Warrior rather than Will Skelton. The visitors went into the break with belief intact, according to skipper Callum Gibbins, pictured inset.
“It was just a very disappointing day,” said Gibbins. “We were certainly up for the game and we were in it until right after half-time. We weathered a storm in the first half and it felt like we had momentum going into the second half.
“It’s disappointing to come into such a big game like this and play like we did after the break. We felt pretty good at half-time. When they got in behind us with some big carries, we just weren’t accurate enough in our defence. It’s pretty hard to stop them in those situations.”
Glasgow ended on the wrong side of the penalty count, 7-11, as they did for most of the match stats with less than 40 per cent of territory and possession. As Rennie pointed out afterwards, the visitors stressed Saracens’ defence when they held on to the ball but that was a rare occurrence, especially given that much of their possession was deep inside their own half.
“If you look back through the footage, I think we did have opportunities,” said Gibbins. “There were times when we could maybe have held the ball through an extra phase and things like that.
“We’re not going to be worried about it too much. It’s disappointing we lost, obviously, but hopefully we’ll be better for it against Ulster next week.”
The second half was a procession of tries, four more from Saracens, two more from Glasgow but only after the match was long gone. Strettle and Williams each grabbed their second touchdown, man of the match Jamie George was last up after Saracens mauled Glasgow over the try line and replacement Nick Tompkins’ seventh was the icing on the cake. Glasgow’s consolation prizes came from George Horne and Matt Fagerson, the latter the pick of the Warriors pack.
Glasgow now need to pick themselves up and dust themselves off because nothing would park this bad taste like a Pro14 title. “We’re still in the hunt in the Pro14,” said Gibbins. “We’re top of our conference, so still very much alive in that competition. When the big occasions come along, we need to step up.”