Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Champions Cup First Round Preview: Glasgow Warriors vs Saracens

Glasgow v Saracens
Graphic © Scottish Rugby Blog

There have been worries about the relative strengths of the Glasgow squad, ever since the season began without any great fanfare or signings save for scrum-half Nick Frisby.

Until now Glasgow have been going well in the league, but the opening weekend of Champions Cup action is always seen as a sterner test. With large chunks of the budget tied up in contracts for Jonny Gray and the injured Stuart Hogg, has Dave Rennie built the depth needed to challenge in Europe?

The team, on the face of it, certainly has some class: Dunbar and Jones in the centre, Fraser Brown at hooker, Jonny Gray at lock, the dog of Gibbins at openside. Unfortunately though, you have to compare it to the monstrous team that Saracens – who knocked Glasgow out on their only previous foray into the knockout stages – are fielding, which has far fewer positions where you’d be saying “oh I wish so-and-so was available” than Glasgow’s.

When you look at one-on-one match ups (as I am sure Kevin Millar is doing in his lab somewhere), Glasgow come off second best in plenty of them; even the form players like Adam Hastings who has been something of a revelation this season – he’ll go up against Owen Farrell.

In days gone past we might have dismissed, say, Richard Wigglesworth’s relatively low amount of England caps or the fact that David Strettle is getting on a bit in order to find some hope for our plucky heroes, but they are key parts of a full-on Saracens team used to winning home or away, with a championship pedigree. In short: blink and they’ll dismantle you.

The lock crisis Glasgow are currently undergoing means Rob Harley gets more game time – no bad thing – while at tighthead D’Arcy Rae gets the honour of trying to shackle Mako Vunipola in the absence of Zander Fagerson. His backup, and Glasgow’s new stop-gap signing is a former Saracens man in the shape of Petrus du Plessis.

Glasgow will defend their home territory of Scotstoun tooth and claw, and perhaps tenacity, along with their comfort at deploying the all-court-counter attack on that pitch could be some light at the end of the tunnel. Saracens will be coming to play test-match rugby though and want to shut them down at any and all opportunities.

Can skill, pace and tenacity upset skill, power and experience?

Only Sunday will tell.

Glasgow Warriors: 15. Ruaridh Jackson, 14. Lee Jones, 13. Huw Jones, 12. Alex Dunbar, 11. DTH van der Merwe, 10. Adam Hastings, 9. Ali Price; 1. Oli Kebble, 2. Fraser Brown, 3. D’Arcy Rae, 4. Rob Harley, 5. Jonny Gray, 6. Ryan Wilson (capt), 7. Callum Gibbins (capt), 8. Matt Fagerson.
Replacements: 16. George Turner, 17. Alex Allan, 18. Petrus du Plessis, 19. Greg Peterson, 20. Chris Fusaro, 21. George Horne, 22. Pete Horne, 23. Rory Hughes.

Not available due to injury: Brian Alainu’uese (back), Scott Cummings (ankle), Zander Fagerson (ankle), Siua Halanukanuka (foot), Stuart Hogg (ankle), Paddy Kelly (calf), Lelia Masaga (hip), Kiran McDonald (hand) and Tim Swinson (lower limb).

Saracens: 15. Alex Goode, 14. David Strettle, 13. Alex Lozowski, 12. Brad Barritt (c), 11. Sean Maitland, 10. Owen Farrell, 9. Richard Wigglesworth, 1. Mako Vunipola, 2. Jamie George, 3. Vincent Koch, 4. Will Skelton, 5. George Kruis, 6. Maro Itoje, 7. Michael Rhodes, 8. Billy Vunipola.
Replacements: 16. Christopher Tolofua, 17. Richard Barrington, 18. Titi Lamositele, 19. Nick Isiekwe, 20. Jackson Wray, 21. Ben Spencer, 22. Nick Tompkins, 23. Liam Williams,

Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)

At Scotstoun Stadium, Sunday 14 October, kick-off 3.15pm – live on BT Sport 2.

75 Responses

  1. That Saracens pack is ridiculous…

    Mako – Starting British/Irish lions
    George – Starting B/I Lion
    Koch – Former SA International ?
    Skelton – Possibly the biggest lock in world rugby
    Kruis – B/I Lion
    Itoje – Starting B/I Lion (and a total dick)
    Rhodes – .. not sure ?
    Billy – Biggest ball carrying 8 in world rugby.

    And thats just there pack… They have L Williams on bench.
    What are the chances Glasgow can win this one ?

    1. Would say CJ Stander and Kieran Read are better ball carriers than Vunipola and that Faletau has more to his game but still agree they have an awesome ball-carrying pack. Could definitely see them struggling to compete at the breakdown though.

      1. Neil is correct.

        Billy 286 lbs
        Stander 251 lbs
        Reid 244 ibs
        Faletau 240 ibs

        Out of that lot Billy V is two and half stone heavier and that is big.

        You stand corrected.

  2. Edinburgh have a good chance to make this game competitive, dont think they will win but would like to see a strong performance.

    On a glasgow note Rae again Vunipola will be an interesting massac.. i mean battle.

    1. Mako is a poor scrummager who was shown up in the 6 Nations this year so I don’t think it’s bad a match up.

      If Saracens dominate the scrum it will be because of the contrasting pack weights.

      1. Agree on Mako’s scrummaging ability. Shown up embarrassingly in the 2013 Lions Tests in Oz. Improved somewhat since then, but still a less than top class scrummager who tbf gives his side plenty in the loose for 60 minutes or so before deflating. But, still a challenge for Rae. Mako’s not great, but he’s absolutely no mug at prop.

  3. No Seymour. Probably the biggest surprise. Hogg stardust clearly a big miss but Jackson does a good job. We also have Huw Jones. So we have a world class game breaker.

    I hope the scrum holds up and Rae has a good game. Also hope Kebble continues his form. It isn’t the weakest Glasgow scrummaging pack i’ve seen.

    I wonder whether Glasgow might try and play a different game than usual and kick and press. They have people who will tackle all day and Harley,Gibbons,Wilson, Brown and Dunbar have the ability to make a mess of ruck ball. Include MFag and we have about four 6s on the field (lack of an 8 but hohum).

    For me the last think I want to see is Jackson running sideways in front of my seat in the east stand and desperately looking for a miss pass to Lee Jones with four Sarries lines up to nail one of them, and then someone drops it. Knock ons and turnover penalties in our own half will kill us.

    I have faith. Glasgow to put the cat amongst the pigeons by outfighting and out pressurising Sarries (maybe I should put the wine down….)

    1. “For me the last thing I want to see is Jackson running sideways in front of my seat in the east stand and desperately looking for a miss pass to Lee Jones with four Sarries lines up to nail one of them, and then someone drops it. Knock ons and turnover penalties in our own half will kill us.” This was my experience watching the second half!

      1. Ha, had to be right eventually…

        Saracens have an astonishing number of players in the right position to tackle. It is not pretty but it is mightily effective!

  4. My biggest concern for this game is the weather. If it’s a ball up the jumper kind of day then the vunipolas will truck it up until we run out of tacklers! My biggest hope is that like other English teams in recent years they seriously underestimate how strong Glasgow can be at home !

    1. Actually my biggest hope is that Glasgow drive them back at the first scrum! The crowd go wild! They panic and then Rennie reveals the playbook he’s been keeping on ice since the start of the year. They then discover at the breakdowns that we’ve got 3 better 6’s than Itoje.

  5. Jesus. I know Wasps haven’t really hit their straps this season yet but Leinster have just handed them an utter spannering. Can’t see past Leinster for this one (again).

  6. The only weakness in Saracens is Farrells temperament. Winding him up is a job for Wilson. Hold the ball, wind them up, force them to tackle and commit offences . If we go out to play gentlemans rugby, might be a long day at the office.

  7. Finn Russelll MOM for Racing. A transformed man, no silly errors.

    I hope Huw Jones and Hastings take full advantage of Hogg’s absence and win the crowd;s hearts at Glasgow. Both are latent class and will outshine given a fair chance.

    1. Dont think its fair the critism of hogg.

      All he has done is given his all for his club and country and done well at it.

      Seems stupid to bash players because they excel.

      1. Hogg is a world-class player. Anyone who says otherwise is a fool. Russell has won plenty of MotM awards with Hogg on the pitch.

    2. I think this guy was just saying win the crowd when Hogg is out.Maybe Blake is correct about misinterpretation of posts.

  8. Brace yoursleves ladies and Gentlemen. I have to say I think Hastings will be up for the Farrell head to head and I believe Jones, Dunbar and DTH are formidable. Winning Ball will be a challenge however 2nd half will be Glasgow’s if we can move their forwards around early on. That is key to success , 1st half containment and a last 20 to seal a win. I feel this will be a much closer contest than we imagine,. No concerns over Jako at the back, in fact he will do well , like I said in earlier posts, he is used to Premiership Rugby. Ok so lee Jones is lacking in stature , however , quick feet might intimidate them into high tackles and resultant penalties. The Glasgow back s are looking great, we need our forwards to come through. Big day for Kebble, no silly penaltys please.

    Gkasses charged, game on :)

  9. Sarries getting the rub of the green so far. Can’t believe they go to TMO for that try. Still, we’re looking desperate.

      1. Our unforced errors have cost us, but Raynaul’s decision-making appears biased in the extreme. Just a knock on for Koch? A reversed penalty for a gentle push – not the first of the match, by the way – despite Sarries instigating? Letting tons of high shots go? No YC for repeated infringements? No YC for playing the 9 in the red zone? No sanction for hair-pulling and face-raking? Blowing early when Jones looks like he’s going to score? The TMO is desperately intervening to make it seem vaguely balanced, shame he didn’t do so before Farrell’s conversion.

      2. Raynaul (as usual) has been a complete one sided disaster.

        2 Rammies so far. 1 started by Saracens, the other by Glasgow (although significantly elevated by Saracens)… Result, two penalties to Saracens.

        Try not reviewed when it was clearly at least a potential in touch (and turned out it was on replay).

        High hit by Lozowski… No penalty, no yellow.

        Neck roll by Kruis… Penalty, but no yellow.

        5 offences in the red zone in last 5 minutes. No yellow! It doesn’t matter if you’re playing advantage, an offence in that time is still foul play and stops the score just the same.

        Can’t wait to see what he has in store for us in the second half.

  10. Watching in pub without sound. And missed first 10 minutes. But unbelievable refereeing of the game I’m watching. Saracens gifted points. And saved. And where was the yellow for hitting the ball and the red for the dump. Disgusting. Could be a long second half with Dunbar off.

  11. Just seen Saracens ‘try’. This game is tainted. Awful from referee / TMO – competition organisers should be ashamed by the bias. Hope raised officially somehow.

    1. It’s awful officiating, but that’s been a feature of every match I’ve watched this weekend. Have Sarries scored a legitimate point yet? If I were a Sarries fan, I’d be cringing right now. And not just because Itoje and Rhodes are dirt.

    2. Seems as if World Rugby are not interested in addressing issues of inconsistency in refereeing.

  12. Not able to watch the game but been listening on radio and sounds like sarries are being gifted all the 50/50s by the ref, heard itoje jumping throught the ruck 10 times also.

  13. Didn’t get to watch the match – sounds frustrating but maybe a positive that the pack wasn’t marmalised like every big game last year? Saracens pack is about as good as it gets at this level.

    Mission for Glasgow is clear – home and away wins against Cardiff and Lyon and a couple of BP and they could still sneak through without a miracle match in Barnet.

    Next week’s game in Cardiff is do or die though and Cardiff are going to fancy themselves big time.

    1. Didn’t get marmalised by Exeter and Montpellier last year…

      I think the backs let us down today. Hastings tried too hard, Dunbar went off early and Jacko looked a shadow of his former self. With Hoggy at fullback, I think we would have won that. Or with a halfway competent referee.

      Cardiff looking good, and I can’t see us progressing from our group. They got away with murder at the breakdown today, though.

      1. Yip, Jackson seems to have seriously lost form. The Glasgow attack is based around the back 3 (especially Hoggy) manipulating defenses to create space. Without direct & quick attack we look pretty toothless.

      2. We should talk up the guys that are fit and celebrate the positives.FF gets that and always sees the silver lining.Well said FF

  14. Positives: Hastings (bar missed touch finder) and Jones (almost firing), G Horne when on, pack fronting up, unbelievable second half defence – almost turned the game shunting back Sarries until they were out of puff and ideas.

    Negatives: Referee, Dunbar going off, Owen Farrell’s smirk, referee, lack of composure at critical line outs / penalties & last 5 metres.

    For next week: find room for Matawalu – wing / even inside centre, Seymour at fullback?

  15. That was frustrating. The forwards did everything they could but there was no cutting edge in the backs. Fraser Brown was excellent as were Gray, Harley, Fagerson and Wilson.

    Hastings is a long way from the finished article and needs to work on his play against a set defence. DTH and Jackson just don’t have it at this level. Without Hogg and Seymour they don’t look dangerous at all.Dunbar and Brown going off injured again is worrying. I don’t think i’ve ever seen George Turner play without making two or three crazy errors, if he has to start next week I don’t think they have any chance.

  16. P*ss poor refereeing, line-running and TMOing in both of our club games this weekend have cost our clubs points and penalties. Still, both Edinburgh and Glasgow have shown they deserve to be playing and properly competing at this level and here’s hoping for better breaks next time round.
    Don’t know whether AP sides are declining in standard or Pro 14 sides are strengthening. Suspect it’s a bit of both. Certainly Exeter would have been stunned by Munster, and Wasps were totally blown away. Lots of excellent rugby still being played in the AP of course, but it’s good to see the Pro 14 clubs competing seriously with AP and Top 14 sides.

    1. The strength of the English league has been a bit of a myth in the last 10yrs – there are a couple of decent sides, Sarries and Exeter and that’s it.

      SKY and now BT hype it way beyond its actual worth.

  17. Cardiff getting an away win doesn’t help Glasgow’s cause. Neither does Newcastle getting an away win against Toulon. Already looking tough for either team to get out of their group.

    Cardiff are looking vastly improved this season so Glasgow are going to need to be going up a level to win in Cardiff. And Toulon will be hurting and looking for a big result when they come to visit next weekend.

    Hopefully both teams can pull it out of the bag and get wins to kickstart their campaigns.

  18. Difficult game to watch. Glasgow played well. Saracens very efficient.

    Raynaul was awful. Putting aside some of the bizarre calls and lack of a card at end of first half the most worrying think was that he allowed Sarries to fly into rucks repeatedly without warning or penalising then. Itoje, BV and Lozowski spring to mind, I am sure there are other examples but haven’t watched it since I got back from the match.

    Best part of the game was when Itoji was announced as MoM, everyone in east stand started laughing. Sean Maitland even had a wry smile!

  19. Seems like there are some differing opinions of Hastings performance today. What isn’t in dispute is that this was a hell of a game to make your European debut!

    1. Apart from his missed pen and touch I thought be played very well. He doesn’t let setbacks get to him – probably one of the most important attributes a young 10 can have.

      I love his physicality and his willingness to give it a go.

  20. Hastings was fine – some very good play. The backs collectively seemed to struggle with the rush defence, but I don’t think the blame lies with Hastings particularly.
    As they said in commentary, a lot of Glasgow’s back moves are based around Hogg and Jackson just isn’t up to it. They need to re-jig things and try and put Huw Jones into better positions so he can do something when he gets the ball.
    I thought Glasgow’s back 3 were very poor today.
    George Horne should really be starting games like that over Price, he offers a lot more.
    Still, a tight game against Saracens is better than expected – especially given how much of a factor the ref was. Whoever gave Itoje man of the match should be shot.
    Getting out of the group will be a tough task now, but still some hope.

    1. The BT commentators and presenters – especially that Irish **** – were loving Itoje’s behaviour – loving it. Shockingly unprofessional.

    1. Yeah, I think Lee Jones is getting a bad wrap here. He maybe doesn’t set the heather on fire for some but he doesn’t let you down either. Made all his tackles and wasn’t responsible for any of the midfield panic.

      I think he’s a bit in the Maitland mold of being potent enough but capable of covering gaps when Hogg, Jones and Seymour are in attack formation.

      If you remember back to last years New Zealand game he did very well against some pretty good centres and wingers there and I’m sure they’d take him seriously next time.

  21. Don’t want to comment too much on the ref as it wont help my blood pressure.

    Glasgow Did well against 16 men but the lack of class in the back 3 was telling. No team in European rugby is going to fear Lee Jones, Rory Hughes and Ruiradh Jackson. With an aging DTH and Seymour and an increasingly injury prone Hogg this is a priority area for Glasgow

  22. I only saw the second half but I was pleasantly surprised by how physical Glasgow were, they stood up to Sarries massively well but as other commenters have said the lack of precision in the wider channels cost them dearly. They had two breakout moves later on that could both have resulted in tries with a little patience.

      1. Jackson is not Hogg.We get that and he is not getting a game this week.One thing we should celebrate is a solid defence and Jackson played his part in that.We have to try and see past the downside of the Injury crisis.

  23. Anyone else notice Stuart Hogg in the stands, looks like he’s had a hair transplant to me. I may have been seeing things but he was looking dapper with his new hair and a scarf. He’s right up there with the likes of Sean Lamont, Dan Parks and Hugh Southwell in the pentheon of Scots rugby hunks.

  24. A match that could have been a lot closer and which the Warrior might actually have won if they had gone for the posts rather then the corner when they got penalties. The fairly easy but missed penalty from Hastings didn’t help either.

    I thought the Warriors generally played well, but I agree with the comments on the back 3 – Jackson in particular does not seem to have regained his good form of last season.

    The **** of the match award was a toss up between Itoje and the referee.

  25. I’d been saying it all week. Saracens, whilst being a very very good team, are not in the same league as Leinster. They lack the speed both in the forwards and backs to pose the same danger, plus Leinster are far more creative in their rugby. Glasgow fronted up well and shouldn’t be so scared of English teams in the future, they all have bulky forwards who have gained their strength from the gym rather than being naturally strong guys. As someone who grew up playing school rugby in England, I can say first-hand, those that get selected for academies and county teams tend just to be those who develop early and are large. Many people who I knew, were pretty average at best at rugby but went far due to their sheer size. It was often more size than athleticism as well which is why I believe English teams have such ‘lumbering’ forwards.

    1. The citing system is unfair to the team sinned against. If Lozovski is suspended this benefits teams yet to face Sarries. If offences had been detected in play then the game and the result could have been different for Glasgow.
      What is needed IMO is a penalty point , similar to the losing bonus point, where teams who rack up a high number of penalties (10 ?) concede a PP and cited offences are totted up on to the in -play total.
      Any statos out there who can run the numbers and see what would have been the effect over last season?

  26. Just as I was starting to get over my grievance at the officiating from last Sunday, I read that Lozowski gets banned for what should have been a red card. Now, this incident happened around the half way line. So from my seat in the East Stand that is about 50 metres. Yet I managed to see this incident live as did quite a few others around me. We all thought that this was the incident that Raynal was reviewing when he went to the TMO, not the knock-on.

    My point here is why wasn’t it checked by the TMO, why wasn’t it spotted by the touch judge and the ref. It was so blatant and I actually thought Brown had been badly injured – thankfully he wasn’t.

    Saracens will continue to fly into rucks and be lauded for this type of combative play unless they are refereed properly. The ban indicates that it was a red card, it wasn’t an “unseen” incident requiring lots of slow-mo replays, so yes it should have been picked up by the officiating team and yes it would have changed the game.

    I know referees have a hard time, and I wouldn’t want to do it, but they have to take responsibility to referee every incident rather than, it would appear to me, having a pre-conceived idea of teams before the game. I would love someone to do a study where the neutralise identifying features of players and teams and re-run games to panel of refs to compare decisions when they don’t know who is who, versus the decisions refs actually make.

    Makes me mad!

    1. I was of the same opinion at the game, couldn’t understand how it had been missed, watched the game back when I got home and it Reynal actually saw it, acknowledged it was foul play and brought it back to a Saracens penalty for offside which there was next to no indication that they had advantage for.
      Personally think it’s unacceptable that a ref can see that and acknowledge something which is dangerous and has been deemed as a red card worthy then just dismiss it because the offending team had a penalty advantage for offside. Yet he overturned a scrum to a penalty for Saracens for the pushing incident

      1. The ‘pushing’ incident actually annoys me more… never a penalty. These little pushes and shoves happen all over the park and it IS a part of the game. Nobody gets hurt, nothing comes of it. Some guys have had opposition players by the throat and the officials haven’t batted an eyelid yet this incident results in a Saracens penalty. Then for the rest of the game we have to listen to Farrell complain to the ref about pushing… any teammate worth their salt would have told him to shut it. It’s one of the reasons I like Nigel Owens, he’d of handled it completely differently.

      2. That was the biggest joke decision in a game full of them, purely because it was so capricious.

        Owens is good at shutting down nonsense, but lets other, more dangerous stuff go, such as the myriad high tackles in the SA match. Generally, though, he and Barnes and decent and fair.

    2. I think we should start a campaign to get retrospective points awarded for successful citings. They say on average a yellow card is worth 10 points to a team. How much is a half following a red card. Think Glasgow should get at least 15 points added to their score. Might be the most effective way for clubs to eliminate foul play.

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