THE two week ban handed down to Saracens centre Alex Lozowski may provide some sense of vindication to the Glasgow Warriors squad after Sunday afternoon’s Heineken Champions Cup defeat to Saracens – but, in practical terms, it doesn’t do them an ounce of good.
The England internationalist faced a disciplinary hearing last night [Tuesday] after being charged with two acts of foul play during that match – for a dangerous tackle on full-back Ruaridh Jackson (which wasn’t upheld) and dangerous play in a ruck or maul (upheld). The verdict was released this morning, with the independent disciplinary panel banning Lozowski for two weeks, but it won’t make a material difference to Warriors’ Champions Cup prospects. The Scottish side now face a must-win clash in Cardiff this coming Sunday if they want to keep their dream of progressing to the knockout stage of European rugby’s showcase competition alive.
The whole affair is even more frustrating for Warriors because the incident, which the panel said warranted a red card, ended with a penalty being awarded against Warriors by French referee Mathieu Reynal, which allowed Owen Farrell to kick three vital points, but also injured hooker Fraser Brown’s knee.
“I was really surprised at the time that the TMO didn’t jump in and deal with that,” said head coach Dave Rennie, who wisely chose to keep his counsel on the referee’s performance after the game on Sunday and wait until the emotion of the match had died down, but felt justified after the citing to speak out on the matter.
“We ended up getting penalised for another issue and it cost us three points, but the fact that he has been cited shows that it was probably a yellow-card – reckless, no arms, into the knees, which could have been season ending for Fraser.
“We didn’t cite him [Lozowski} – we let the citing commissioner deal with that sort of thing – but we’re certainly disappointed with a number of things which happened during the game from a refereeing perspective,” added Rennie. “We’ve cut a number of clips and sent them in to Joel Jutge [World Rugby’s High-Performance Match Official Manager] and we’re waiting for a response tomorrow.”
“You need strong refereeing, I reckon. What you permit you promote. I just think if he’d been stronger in the first 10 minutes of the game, penalised [Maro] Itoje for creeping around the maul and other offences it would get changed. But if you allow guys to do it, they’ll keep doing it … and good on them. It’s smart footy in the end.”
While Rennie was clearly disgruntled by the way the game had been officiated, he was not using it as an excuse for the loss. Asked if his team need to become more adroit in the dark arts, he showed all the fleet-footedness of a Test match winger.
“We want to be really physical, within the law. We’ve had our say. We’ve moved on and want to look ahead. We certainly haven’t sat around with the players and grumbled about any of the decisions. We had our chances and got ourselves at the right end of the field but needed to be more patient and clinical.”
Rennie added that Brown and centre Alex Dunbar are the two injury doubts from Sunday’s brutal encounter, ahead of this weekend’s Cardiff showdown.
“Alex has got a concussion, and it’s Fraser’s shoulder and knee, but they both have a chance to be involved this coming weekend,” he said. “He’s in amongst everything, Fraser, so he’s often picking up bumps and bruises. He’s better today than he was yesterday so we’ll give him every chance.”
On the plus side, Rennie has centre Sam Johnson [head and knee] back in the selection frame this week, and second-row Scott Cummings [ankle] also has a chance.
“From a physicality point of view, that was a big step up. They are a massive side and we’re really proud of the way the boys stood up in the face of that, and as you can see from the injuries on both sides it was pretty brutal,” said Rennie – referencing the fact that Saracens number eight Billy Vunipola will now miss England’s Autumn Test schedule after breaking his arm against Warriors, while brother Mako is also a doubt with a calf injury, Maro Itoje and Jamie George sustained broken noses, Owen Farrell took a bang to the knee, Nick Isiekwe hurt his ankle and Lozowski appeared to injure his arm in the closing stages of a brutal if scrappy encounter.
“Each week is different, so we’ll do a little bit less at the start of the week to make sure we get some of those battered bodies sorted. We’ll treat guys individually. We’re well into our season so the boys are pretty clear with what we are doing. When we take the field on Sunday we can hopefully bring the same sort of intensity as last Sunday.
“I think there has been lots of question marks around whether we’re tough enough up front. We were really confident the guys would get up for [Saracens] and the guys now need to do it again seven days later. If you’ve got any aspirations of winning silverware at the business end of the year you have lots of big games. We’re confident we are playing well, have prepared well and there’s no reason why we can’t fire again on Sunday.
“We’ve got to bring that intensity to each game. On the back of that we’ve just got to be far more clinical. If we can defend like that and if we can be really physical in our carry-and-clean, you give yourselves a chance. Our set-piece has been going well, against a massive pack at the weekend we showed what we’re capable of. Cardiff are a good side, they had a good result last week.
“Playing them at home, if they can win it puts them in a strong position.”