April 2 2017
Saracens 38-15 Glasgow Warriors. The European Rugby Champions Cup Semi Final. Sunday 2 April Allianz Park. Saracens set up a Champions Cup Semi Final against Munster in Dublin in three weekends' time as a controlled performance in defence and attack delivered a comprehensive win against the Pro12 side, whose strong attacking game only flourished fleetingly.
Having played so well against Bath last week, the unchanged starting XV was no surprise for the hosts, with customary commitment in defence but a real incisiveness in attack through a combination of powerful drives and slick handling which saw them make a mammoth 649 metres in the game alongside a tackle success rate of 91%. The line up saw Alex Goode at full back, with Chris Ashton and Sean Maitland on the wings, and a centre partnership of Marcelo Bosch and Brad Barritt, with Owen Farrell and Richard Wigglesworth combining in the half-backs. Forwards-wise, the front row contained Mako Vunipola, Jamie George and Juan Figallo, as Maro Itoje and Jim Hamilton featured in the second row with a back row trio of Michael Rhodes, Jackson Wray and Billy Vunipola.
Glasgow selected Stuart Hogg at full back, with Tommy Seymour and Lee Jones on the wings outside the centres of Alex Dunbar and Peter Horne, and a half back combination of fly half Finn Russell and scrum half Henry Pyrgos. The pack contained Gordon Reid, Fraser Brown and Zander Fagerson in the front row, with Brian Alainu'uese and Jonny Gray at lock and a back row trio of Rob Harley, Ryan Wilson and Adam Ashe. In contrast to the home side, that meant the Scottish side made no less than nine changes from the starting side which defeated Connacht 35-24 with only Hogg, Horne, Russell, Alainu'uese, Harley and Ashe commencing both games.
Inside the first minute, Glasgow chose to run a scrum penalty, but, in a taste of what was to come, they were soon turned over 40 metres out, and Wray, Billy Vunipola and Maitland were at the heart of it as the home side powerfully advanced over the gainline. The move culminated in a lofted pass by Goode which found Ashton in the right corner, but he was hauled into touch by Hogg. Just three minutes later, Saracens went close again in what was almost a mirror image of the previous move as another flowing move ended in Goode finding Maitland on the left wing this time, but again he was hauled into touch. The hosts continued to force the early pressure as they pinched a Warriors lineout but then knocked on soon afterwards, but when the visitors failed to roll away, Farrell was able to provide an eighth minute lead. In the aftermath, the visitors finally enjoyed some possession as the hosts failed to roll away themselves, and Russell was able to level the scores. As the game continued to move at a fast pace, a high tackle on Wray came the hosts the chance to retake the lead in the 14th minute through another Farrell penalty, but, as was a feature of the whole content, Glasgow failed to make the most of their opportunities, losing possession soon after gaining much-needed territory from a scrum penalty.
When Saracens won a penalty as Warriors offended at the maul on 21 minutes, they opted to keep the scoreboard ticking over only for a rare miss from Farrell as he dragged it to the left, but he atoned for this within three minutes as Glasgow conceded a breakdown penalty as they tried to play out of their own 22, and it was 9-3. The Pro12 side had started to come into the game a bit more, showing some promise in midfield, though failing to threaten the home line. Forwards and backs combined effortlessly through the midfield as Saracens got the first try of the match just after the half hour as the ball was spread out through Farrell and Goode to the right for Ashton to roll over at the corner, and though the conversion was missed, the home side had a handy 14-3 lead. The Warriors were guilty of some muddled thinking with five minutes of the half remaining, when they couldn't decide whether to kick for goal or touch, and managed neither, as the ball stayed in play and Saracens were able to counter. In the closing minutes of the first 40, Farrell and Bosch combined at pace to set up what would have effectively been a match-clinching try only for the lively Ashton to step into touch, as Glasgow stayed in the game.
Warriors had threatened intermittently with some tricky kicks through from Hogg and Russell, one example being from Russell early in the second half as he latched onto a loose pass by Sarries, but, again, they failed to sustain pressure. In the 45th minute, though, they did make a breakthrough as Wray was penalised for a high tackle on Jones. Glasgow responded with their most coherent passage of play in the whole match, which was interrupted by treatment for an injury, but when it resumed, the ball was worked from the scrum to Russell for a kick over the defence to the left for Jones to cut in and score, but the attempted conversion clipped the post and meant it was 14-8 with 48 minutes played. However, seven minutes later, a failure to find touch again by the visitors almost proved very costly, as Schalk Brits, having just come on as a replacement, made a fine break from deep and linked up with Wigglesworth, only for the ball to work loose in the visitors' 22. On 58 minutes, Saracens did have a second try, though, as the Warriors were penned back in their own 22 and forced into a desparate short kick, which was collected by Ashton to start a move which finished when Bosch took Wigglesworth's pass to weave through at least three tacklers and score beneath the posts for a 21-8 lead.
Glasgow responded with some pressure of their own just past the hour, as, although they lost yet another lineout, they staged a series of crashing drives after Saracens knocked on, but the home defence held firm and waited for the mistake. The hosts went close to a third try as intricate passing gave Goode an opportunity, only for the score to be ruled out for crossing. However, an earlier infringement meant Farrell had the opportunity to stretch the lead to 24-8 and effectively seal the game with ten minutes remaining. There was still three more tries to come, though. An initial surge by replacement Duncan Taylor began a move which took Sarries into the heart of the Glasgow 22 only for a Wray knock on to halt progress, but the scrum was turned over, and in the consequent play, Ashton switched from one wing to another to pop up on the left and provide a scoring pass for Barritt to go over on the left, with Farrell making it 31-8. Further gloss was added to the scoreline as Saracens reached opposition territory with a long distance penalty and more slick handling ended in Goode setting up Ashton's second on the left and another conversion made it 38-8. Glasgow had the last word as they added a consolation score through Wilson as they finally held onto the ball through several phases.
15 Alex Goode - 14 Sean Maitland (22 Alex Lozowski 75) - 13 Marcelo Bosch (23 Duncan Taylor 60) - 12 Brad Barritt (c) - 11 Sean Maitland - 10 Owen Farrell - 9 Richard Wigglesworth (21 Neil de Kock 75) - 1 Mako Vunipola (17 Titi Lamositele 72) - 2 Jamie George (16 Schalk Brits 55) - 3 Juan Figallo (18 Vincent Koch 28) - 4 Maro Itoje - 5 Jim Hamiton (20 Joel Conlon 72) - 6 Michael Rhodes - 7 Jackson Wray - 8 Billy Vunipola (19 Kelly Brown 75)
15 Stuart Hogg (23 Rory Hughes 75) - 14 Tommy Seymour - 13 Alex Dunbar (22 Nick Grigg HIA 3-7) - 12 Peter Horne (22 Nick Grigg 57) - 11 Lee Jones - 10 Finn Russell - 9 Henry Pyrgos (21 Ali Price 51) - 1 Gordon Reid (17 Alex Allan 60) - 2 Fraser Brown (16 Corey Flynn 60) - 3 Zander Fagerson (18 Sila Puafisi 48) - 4 Brian Alainu'uese - 5 Jonny Gray (19 Greg Peterson 11 / 20 Chris Fusaro 71) - 6 Rob Harley - 7 Ryan Wilson - 8 Adam Ashe