Saracens vs Glasgow Warriors European Rugby Champions Cup Quarter Final Sunday 2 April, Allianz Park The favourites versus the outsiders. Or at least according to the bookies. But what it certainly is is a clash between one of the most assured knockout sides in European rugby against a side featuring at this stage for the first time, after intermittently threatening to do so in recent seasons. However, as Saracens will appreciate, having evolved from a side not even in top flight European competition to dominating it, Glasgow's wish to progress from their 2015 Pro12 title win and make history in this tournament assures they will be dangerous opponents. With Scotstoun also an artificial surface, NW4 will hold no surprises.
The Warriors look unlikely to repeat their top four placings of the last five seasons as the loss of virtually the whole first choice squad to international duty has had a significant effect this time around. However, an opening day 41-5 win at Champions Connacht suggested a different tale would unfold, particularly as the second game saw another bonus point success, 33-25 against Leinster, as Tommy Seymour helped himself to four tries. It then began to unravel league-wise, though, with successive reverses at Cardiff Blues and at home to Ulster, before away wins at Newport Gwent Dragons and Zebre restored the momentum and the period before the Autumn Internationals was wrapped up by a 31-14 home win over Benetton Treviso.
A miserable November began with a comprehensive 27-3 loss at Scarlets ahead of a 22-5 home setback at the hands of Ospreys and a single point defeat to Munster, also at Scotstoun. Back at full strength for Christmas, a 25-12 win came in the 1872 Cup clash at Edinburgh before New Year's Eve brought a 35-28 win at Benetton Treviso, and they warmed up for the European games with a 29-15 January bonus point home win over Cardiff Blues. Results then became harder to come by through the Six Nations period, as a 26-14 home loss was suffered to Scarlets ahead of a double damaging defeat to play-off challengers Ulster and Ospreys. However, bonus points in their last two home games, 47-17 against Newport Gwent Dragons and 35-24 versus Connacht sees them take some form into this contest.
In Europe, though, it's been a different story as the Scottish side scored 85 points in their two games against Leicester Tigers, beginning with the season opener at home, which they won 42-13 and claimed five tries. The next game was a tough assignment at Munster, less than a week after Anthony Foley's passing, and despite the home side being reduced to 14 men in the first half, an intense display brought them a 38-17 win. The double header with Racing 92 saw them come away from Paris with a 23-14 win and complete the pair of victories by beating them 23-7 in Scotland, whilst January saw them edged out 14-12 at home by Munster in what was effectively the pool decider, but the chance of a best runners up spot was comprehensively taken as Leicester were beaten 43-0 at Welford Road.
After some subdued displays, Saracens' attacking edge and verve has returned with a vengeance, whilst the rolling maul looks as threatening as ever too. With the cohesion and know-how of this group, if they maintain the standards of the Bath game, few would back against them, but Glasgow are a dangerous attacking side (just ask Leicester), so a similar defensive effort to recent weeks is essential. In that Tigers game, the Warriors made more than three times as much ground as their hosts, who were reduced to a paltry 130 metres, with fly half Finn Russell making the most ground for Glasgow
Possible line ups: For Saracens, its hard to see many changes from last week, Alex Goode should be at full back with Chris Ashton and Sean Maitland on the wings outside the centre partnership of Marcelo Bosch and Brad Barritt and a half back combination of Owen Farrell and Richard Wigglesworth. Into the pack, and the front row should again comprise of Mako Vunipola, Jamie George and Juan Figallo, the second row of Maro Itoje and Jim Hamilton and a back row of Michael Rhodes, Schalk Burger and Billy Vunipola. For Glasgow, a similar line up to the Leicester triumph seems likely with Stuart Hogg at full back, Sean Lamont and Rory Hughes on the wings and a centre partnership of Nick Grigg and Alex Dunbar with Finn Russell at fly half and Ali Price at scrum half. Forwards-wise, Gordon Reid, Fraser Brown and D'arcy Rae should make up the front row, with Jonny Gray teaming up with Brian Alainu-uese at lock and a back row of Rob Harley, Ryan Wilson and Adam Ashe.
I'd only suggest that you're out on 2 picks for us - I don't see D'arcy Rae being anywhere near the 23 (I'd expect Zander Fagerson to start with Sila Puafisi on the bench), and Tommy Seymour should start ahead of either Hughes or Lamont.
You might well be right with the centre-pairing. It's not clear cut, but I think most Warriors would expect Peter Horne to get the nod ahead of Nick Grigg (Sam Johnson turned out for Stirling County at the weekend in his first game back after a month out, so may also be in contention to pair up with Dunbar).
Thanks for posting that, WeAreWarriors - I was remembering with the family the other day that period when we seemed always to be playing against Glasgow. Hope you enjoy your day at Allianz Park on Sunday - just not too much!
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