GLASGOW WARRIORS head coach Dave Rennie was so incensed by the way his team’s match against Saracens was refereed in the first round of this season’s Champions Cup campaign back in October that he sent a dossier of clips to Joel Jutge [World Rugby’s High-Performance Match Official Manager] to highlight some of the moments he believed match whistler Mathieu Reynal had failed to deal with properly.
Saracens centre Alex Lozowski was cited after the match and picked up a two-week ban for dangerous play when he recklessly threw himself into a ruck at knee level, injuring Fraser Brown in the process, but that wasn’t the only incident which had infuriated Rennie.
“You need strong refereeing,” said the Kiwi-coach, the following week. “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.”
It was hard to escape the conclusion after the match that Reynal had been inclined to give Saracens the benefit of the doubt based on their bigger reputation, and Warriors appear keen to avoid that being the case again as they prepare to face the English champions for the third time this season at Allianz Park in North London on Saturday.
Rennie made a point earlier this week of praising Nigel Owens, who is the man in the middle this weekend, and particularly his ability to identify when he is being manipulated. Now hooker Brown has now also got in on the act.
“We’ve got Nigel as the referee this weekend – he’s refereed god knows how many games – so he knows all the tricks,” he said. “So, you’ve got to prove that you’re playing well and that you’re trying to play the game in the right fashion – that you are in the ascendancy.
“And that’s particularly the case at scrum time. You’ve got to show that you want to be positive, that you want to scrum, that you want to use the ball, and then hopefully on the back of that the referee will give you the right decisions.
“Discipline will be big,” he continued. “I’ve watched their last couple of games. In the game at the weekend, they struggled to get into in the first half, and then they really grabbed it in the second half and really put the pressure on, and Harlequins started to give away penalties. That meant Sarries started to get field possession, and they’ve got a such a strong set-piece and ball-carriers …
“It is a vital part of the game, if you can deny them the ball then you can try to control where you play the game, while on the flip side if you give away penalties and set-piece it will allow them to play the game where they want to play it.”
Cool heads, clear minds
One of Rennie’s big gripes is that Saracens like to wind up the opposition, with second-row Itoje an arch-agitator. He famously mock-celebrated with the Glasgow Warriors players when he realised before they did that the try they had just scored a during the second half of that game at Scotstoun back in October had been disallowed. It was picked up by the cameras and became a real talking point in terms of the values of the game, but Brown clearly didn’t want to get embroiled in that old debate.
“It happens,” he said. “You are just trying to wind people up on the pitch, and players do it to everyone all the time.
“Guys like Maro like to give their energy and get their energy from performing like that. So, they celebrate if they get a knock-on or a penalty, and it is very visual. But in our games against the likes of Munster and Ulster, there is always niggle in there as well – it is good, it shows the passion of both teams – that they are up for it and want to play.
“Maro is such a good player,” Brown added. “He’s always to the fore for them – he’s pivotal in both attack and defence – and he’s very visual when he celebrates. So, it is easy for guys to focus on that, but then you miss out the rest of the good things he does so well.
“For us, it is about going there and trying to play our game, trying to force our game onto them, and hopefully at the end of the 80 minutes we will be there or thereabouts – but there is no mistaking how good a team they are and how big a challenge it will be.”