The Warriors stayed in touch with England’s standard bearers for 70 minutes but ended up losing by a larger margin than they deserved.
Edinburgh’s impressive win over Montpellier in Pool 5 on Friday night meant Glasgow had already progressed to the last eight of the Champions Cup before this one kicked off. But Warriors missed the chance to top Pool 3 and secure a home quarter-final in March.
The opening half of this match was breathless and bonkers in equal measure, with six tries shared equally between the two teams who stood toe-to-toe and slugged it out like a couple of heavyweight boxers trading blow for blow.
Things calmed down in the second 40 with no scoring from 30 to 70 minutes when Saracens’ Maro Itoje, who else, put this one to bed.
Glasgow again finished second at the Allianz but will take heart from a gutsy and incisive performance that was light years ahead of some of the stodge they have served up in recent weeks.
Ali Price was outstanding, reminding us why he made such an impact a few years back, keeping the opposition defence honest with his breaks around the base. Stuart Hogg repeatedly kicked Saracens deep back into their own half and he made one brilliant kick/pass to Tommy Seymour on his own 22-metre line in the opening 40.
Adam Hastings repaid Dave Rennie’s faith in him with a controlled performance at 10 that saw him kick the ball a lot more often than usual, especially in the first half, and a bit better. His long pass set up Ryan Wilson’s try and, while his defence wasn’t always rock solid, Hastings will be happy with his overall contribution.
In one second-half scrum Glasgow had Saracens’ vaunted pack running backwards, which made the front row’s day, but the visitors were bested in three key areas.
They lost at least four lineout throws, although starting hooker Grant Stewart was his usual industrious self around the park, and they lost the breakdown battle where the Warriors were isolated too easily and too often, with the visitors coughing up nine turnovers, more than twice their hosts. Most importantly Sarries were not made to work terribly hard for several of their tries.
It was a crazy opening to this match. Sarries struck first with the Ben Spencer Show. The scrum-half kicked a three-point penalty before adding the first try, following a simple line break from Liam Williams, which he then converted. Glasgow were trailing by 10-0 after seven minutes but then Rennie’s team found their feet with two humdingers.
First up Sam Johnson’s long pass opened up the right flank for Hogg and the full-back sent Seymour over the try line. Just minutes later they had a second. Rob Harley blocked Spencer’s clearance kick, the ball fell to Price and the little scrummy showed everyone a clean pair of heels from 25 metres out.
Glasgow failed to recover the restart and Alex Lewington was tackled into touch by Hogg as he went for the line but Saracens weren’t denied for long. From a five metre lineout most of the Saracens backs joined the drive and it proved impossible to stop with prop Vincent Koch the last man up.
Glasgow fought back. On the end of a Hastings pass, Seymour stepped inside and made vital yards towards the Sarries line before Wilson picked a sumptuous out-to-in line that made him impossible to stop from close range.
The action was end-to-end and England lock George Kruis thought he had scored after Glasgow’s defence rushed out the line and picked the wrong receiver. Replays showed that Hastings had knocked the ball out of his grasp just millimetres shy of the Glasgow line but Sarries breakaway Billy Vunipola picked and drove right through the Glasgow 10 from the ensuing five-metre scrum.
Thanks to one penalty and an extra conversion the home team took a 24-19 lead into the half-time sheds and there was no scoring in the third quarter, which failed to hit the heights of the first 40. Playing into the wind Glasgow upped the pace, keeping ball in hand, even on their own try line but they weren’t able to hold on to the ball long enough to maintain pressure. Sarries, too, had their chances. Williams cut a line right down the middle of the field, but Glasgow papered the cracks.
The decisive score didn’t appear until the 70th minute when Sarries ran back a loose Glasgow kick and three forwards, Billy Vunipola, Jamie George and Will Skelton, showed soft hands near the right touchline to send Itoje over.
Glasgow had one last chance of a late try to pick up a bonus point but the throw failed to find its mark, not for the first time, and instead Skelton scored Sarries’ fifth with the clock in the red numbers.