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By Darraghgirl
October 12 2018

  Hard to believe it but already we have played more than a quarter of our Premiership games! So far so good one might say – 6 games, 6 wins and only 1 point short of the maximum 30. Not only that but we have got this far without getting out of 3rd gear. So now the focus shifts to Europe and the stakes rise. In the Premiership, you can get away with the odd lapse – but in Europe there is nowhere to hide; lose one game and you almost certainly forfeit a home quarter-final, lose 2 and you probably won’t be there at all. Last season was a disappointing one from a European perspective for a team who had won back-to-back European Cups. Even so Saracens were England’s sole representatives at the knock-out stage. That snowy afternoon in December meant that a depleted Sarries had to take on a high-flying Leinster side in Dublin in the quarter finals. Despite a brave effort, there was only ever going to be one result.  

When this year’s draw was made, most people breathed a big sigh of relief: no Irish opposition, no second English team and probably the best of the French options given that Lyon, for all their ability, are European Champions Cup Virgins. Not that we should be complacent. As we know from last weekend, other teams raise their games when Saracens come to town, we are their cup final. (Incidentally what a pity we had no reporter for that hard-fought victory at The Stoop. I was lying on my sunbed on a beach in St Kitts while Mr DG plied me with Pina Coladas to steady my nerves – no mean feat listening to events unfolding courtesy of the inept and biased Radio London reporters  -correct me if I’m wrong but I thought Saracens was a London club!).

Anyway back to the match in hand. Saracens have possibly their toughest test first off – a visit to the land of haggis and bagpipes to play Glasgow Warriors. Elsewhere on this site there is a poll which suggests many supporters feel Saracens will not lose a Champions League Pool match this season. I suspect McCall and his gang will not be taking anything for granted. Glasgow is a tough place to go and win.

The last time the 2 teams met was in the quarters in 2017. Glasgow finished runners up in a tough Pool 1 to Munster. A buoyant Glasgow team came South with high hopes of dethroning the Champions, only to return with their tails between their legs. That season the Scottish national team had notably defeated both Ireland and Wales in the 6 Nations so understandably Scottish hopes were high. The Glasgow team featured 2 high-profile Scots: Stuart Hogg at full-back and Finn Russell at 10. Sadly they will both be absent this time, Russell has followed the Euros to Racing 92 and Hogg is out with an ankle injury along with Warriors prop Zander Fagerson who broke a leg in September. Just to remind ourselves (why not) Sarries won that game 38-13 with a brace of tries from Ashy plus efforts from Bosch and Barritt. It was also a game where Goode and Farrell easily outplayed their illustrious counterparts.

New Zealand lock Brian Alainu’uese is said to be leaving for Toulon. Warriors notably strengthened their squad this week with the signing of former Sarrie Petrus du Plessis from London Irish. Warriors have had a promising season so far winning 5 of their 6 matches in the Pro-14 including the scalp of Munster at Scotstoun. Perhaps surprisingly, their only defeat so far was away to Southern Kings so they will go into Sunday’s match with confidence. It should also be remembered that Glasgow qualified for the Champions Cup by right, finishing at the top of Conference A ahead of Munster (only to lose a home semi-final to Scarlets).

I have no doubt Mark McCall will field his strongest possible team. Assuming no new injuries, I would expect to see something along the lines of: Goode, Williams, Loz, Barritt, Maitland, Faz and Wiggy in the backs (although if Captain Fantastic isn’t fit we need a stronger combination of centres than Loz and Tompkins so Bosch could start). I would assume we will see Mako, George and Koch (back from International duty), Maro and Kruis and then Rhodes, Burger and Billy in the back row (although there are a number of permutations here).

Glasgow have a promising fly half, Adam Hastings, who recently won their player of the month in September. Other backs to look out for are scrum half Ali Brown, centres Alex Dunbar and Huw Jones, scrum-half-cum-winger, the Fijian Nikola Matawalu, and former Wasp & Quin, Ruaridh Jackson. In the forwards, hooker Fraser Brown and lock Jonny Gray are well known adversaries.

French referee Mathieu Raynal will be in charge of the fixture.

The forecast for the weekend is, I understand, wet and windy so it is probably a good job that Scotstoun has an artificial surface. At least we might see some rugby played! Sarries will need to be at their best for what could well be their toughest pool game but hopefully they will just squeak a win.

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