A TON or two of effort, but not an ounce of reward. Glasgow Warriors were in with a shout of a bonus point right to the bitter end against Saracens this afternoon, but in the end took nothing from the game.
A home loss without even the consolation of a losing bonus point is a far from ideal start to a Champions Cup campaign, but Dave Rennie was measured in his criticism of his own side – and indeed of the referee, who was the object of the Scotstoun crowd’s anger for the way in which he officiated the breakdown, among other aspects of the game. And, while accepting that his team should have taken something from the Pool Three opener, the Warriors coach was adamant that they should not be too downhearted after losing to a side that has lifted the trophy in two of the last three seasons.
“You know Saracens are going to be there in the end,” Rennie said. “Cardiff had a good win away in Lyon. They’ll be tough next week, but if we can win away we’ll be back in the race. Last year Scarlets lost their first couple and ended up in the semis. We’ll dust ourselves off, look at what we did well, be clear on where we have to be better and have another crack at Cardiff.”
The Blues, who won 30-21 in Lyon, have made significant improvements over the past year, and will clearly be a tough proposition for the Warriors in the Welsh capital next Sunday. But Rennie believes that as long as team become more patient at vital times, they can profit from the improvement he is convinced they have made in other areas.
“Can’t fault the attitude,” he continued. “The effort was outstanding. But we just need to be far more clinical and patient when we’re attacking, specially on the penalty advantage. You can go seven, eight or nine phases, keep applying pressure, but a couple of times we’ve gone for the miracle play.
“We’ll learn from that. Effort-wise I thought we fronted bloody well. They had to defend their line for big chunks of the second half, but like I say, we needed to turn our pressure into points.”
“I think when you’re chasing the game . . . We just let the pressure off too easily. Yeah, frustrating.
“We probably deserved to [take something from it]. We gave them a pretty soft 10 points early on in the game. From then on I thought we defended pretty well.”
Seven of those points were highly debatable, as Alex Lozowski appeared to be in touch in the build-up to Michael Rhodes’ try, which was converted by Owen Farrell. Maro Itoje, too, was less than wholly compliant with the letter of the law at times, but while Rennie remarked on the England flanker’s flirtation with legality, he declined to complain about it.
“A lot of it was frustrating. We’ll look at the game and maybe put a bit of footage together for [EPCR referees head] Joel Jutge and get a bit of clarity around some things.
“Look, if we start talking about refs and TJs we’ll be here for a long time. What we know is, you’ve got Itoje in the opposition, who pushes the boundaries. That’s probably why he got man of the match – he did a pretty good job around that. There was obviously a couple of decisions that could have gone the other way, maybe, but we’ll look at ourselves. We just need to be more clinical with ball in hand and turn pressure into points.”
That need was most evident just inside the final 10 minutes, when Adam Hastings turned down the chance to kick at goal and went for touch instead. A successful kick would have given Glasgow the bonus point had there been no further scoring, but instead Saracens won a free-kick from the lineout.
“I think it was nine minutes left, so the decision was if we scored it was a chance to win it,” Rennie explained. “We had two or three penalties before half-time that we could have gone for the posts too, but they had been penalised a couple of times, and if you keep applying pressure maybe you get rewarded with a yellow card and so on. I’ve got no issue with the decision-making there. As I say, we’ve got to be more clinical.
“Our set piece was strong. Our scrum was dominant early, then they started sharing across and Itoje was joining the front row. We didn’t get the same dominance.
“Our set-piece defensive lineout is a lot better. We’re stopping mauls – they’re a bit of a juggernaut in that area. We’re happy with that.”
Needless to say, Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall was considerably more pleased than Rennie with the outcome. “To win and deprive them of a point is a big thing,” he said. “We worked really hard and scrapped when we had to.
“We knew the improvement they had made, how dangerous some of the individuals were, the quality of Adam Hastings who can make something out of nothing – though I thought for the most part we covered him pretty well.
“They defended superbly well. They’re a dangerous team as well, and we had to scramble back a few times to stop some of those breaks.”