An intriguing few hours of rugby lies in store. Saracens will be reeling from the news that broke on Saturday that they will be automatically relegated from the English Premiership at the end of this season for failing to get their player payments back under the league’s salary cap, but will that knock the fight right out of them or inspire the reining champions to raise their game in defiance? They are at home against Racing 92, so Warriors will be hoping that their old talismanic stand-off Finn Russell can inspire his team-mates, despite the fact that they have already booked their place in the last eight.
Gloucester, meanwhile, are in Toulouse – where they will be monitored by an all-Scottish refereeing team led by former Glasgow Warriors utility-back Mike Adamson. You couldn’t make it up!
Warriors head coach Dave Rennie is a no-nonsense kind of guy and you get the distinct impression that he doesn’t get any satisfaction from the knowledge that his team have contributed to a thrilling weekend of sport for the neutral.
“We probably did enough to get five points last week [against Exeter Chiefs] but didn’t, and the loss at home to La Rochelle in round four was a killer because we definitely had more than enough opportunity there, but it is what it is,” he reflected. “We’ve been playing a lot better footie recently, the last month has been far more clinical, but we’ve got no control of what happens from here – so we’ll just have to see how results go tomorrow.”
In this match, Leone Nakarawa – only two minutes into his Warriors second-coming – got the ball rolling when he muscled over from close range, following an initial dent from winger DTH van der Merwe.
It went from bad to worse for Sale Sharks when they lost their skipper Jono Ross to the sin-bin after his forearm made contact with a Glasgow head post-tackle, and the visitors took immediate advantage by kicking to the corner so that they could set up a lineout drive which allowed Fraser Brown to flop over.
An Ali Price snipe and an excellent support line from Van der Merwe secured the third try with the clock still two minutes shy of the half-hour mark and, despite having lost Nakarawa to the sin-bin for re-entering a maul from the side, they snatched the bonus point early in the second half, when Sam Johnson capitalised from Adam Hastings’ quick tap-penalty.
Sale got points on the board when replacement prop Jake Cooper-Woolley squeezed over after Deny Solomona had hunted down his one kick ahead on the right, but that was the only blip in a commanding second half for Warriors. Hastings slotted a penalty and Jonny Gray rumbled in for try number five in quick order just after the hour mark.
George Turner – who was a handful with ball in hand throughout his 23 minutes on the park – finished off the scoring in some style, when he came back against the grain to hit a devastating line off an Adam Hasting pop-pass then showed the pace and balance of a thoroughbred outside-centre to slalom past three defenders on his way to the line.
“I’m really rapt with that,” said Rennie, with regard to his team’s performance. “The boys worked hard. We held on to a lot of ball, generating some quick pill which put them under pressure.