DAVE RENNIE says his team must avoid getting sucked into Saracens’ gamesmanship during Saturday’s European Champions Cup quarter-final clash at Allianz Park in North London.
It will be the third time this season that the two sides have met, with the pair having already clashed twice in the pool stage of the same competition. The previous two encounters have been ferocious affairs. In the first of those encounters back in October, the English Champions had to dig deep in a particularly bad-tempered contest to battle to a 3-13 win at Scotstoun, and in the return leg the game hung in the balance up until the 70th minute before two late tries eased Saracens to a 38-19 win (which was far more comfortable on the scoreboard than the final score-line suggests).
The bookmakers are giving Saracens a 15 point handicap this weekend, but Rennie says his team have the raw ability to cause an upset if they can keep their discipline and play to their potential for something approaching the full 80 minutes.
“They were two pretty brutal encounters when we played them in the pool stage but there’s no doubt this game will be more intense than any game we’ve played this year,” he acknowledged. “That’s what happens when you get into knock-out footie. There’s a lot on the line and there’s no tomorrow for one of the teams. So, we expect it to ramp up even more than the games we played against them earlier in the season. We’re steeling ourselves up for a brutal encounter.”
Rennie was then asked if there was genuine bad blood between the teams after the previous encounters. “We’re not talking about it,” he replied, before going on to talk about it.
“Often, if they make an error, it’s followed by a lot of push and shove from them to maybe bring the referee in to change a decision. We can’t afford to get sucked into that sort of stuff,” he said.
All of a sudden, the New Zealander’s previously relaxed demeanour had stiffened.
He was asked if he thought this was a deliberate ploy? “Absolutely,” he replied.
Has he seen other teams do it? “I’ve seen Saracens do it. Saracens against every other side they play.
Nigel Owens – the most experienced referee in world rugby – is the man in the middle on Saturday, and Rennie believes the Welshman will be wise to any jiggery-pokery, so it is up to his players to avoid getting sucked into any off-the-ball stuff which might hamper their chances.
“We can’t be passive, but we’ve got to be smart around that sort of thing,” he said. “We saw it out here [in the first leg at Scotstoun]. We had a decision went our way, and the there was a bit of push and shove and Fraser Brown got penalised and they got three points out of it. It’s clearly a ploy.
“I think Nigel’s pretty smart, he won’t get sucked in. He’s an experienced ref, so we’re not even sending any clips in about Saracens. He’s been around a long time… he’s good enough, hopefully, to make the right decisions at the right time and we’ll trust his judgement.”
Rennie added that he expects to have a couple of key men returning from injury for the match. “George Horne will definitely be back,” he stated. “We expect Hoggy [Stuart Hogg] to be back. With Tommy Seymour, there’s still a question-mark.
“Medically, we think Stuart’s shoulder is going to be fine,” Rennie elaborated. “He’s done a lot of work and he was close to playing last weekend. He’s ticked all the boxes, so the expectation is that he’ll be good to play against Saracens. He did contact late last week so he’s just got to get a bit more footie into him. But, medically, he’s ticked all the boxes.
“He’s pretty keen to play. He said he wants to get to 25-per-cent of the games I’ve coached before he leaves… so he’ll probably need to play every other game from now on for that to happen,” the coach added with a chuckle.
In fact, Hogg has played in 15 of the 52 competitive games Glasgow have played whilst Rennie has been at the helm, which highlights the challenges clubs face when it comes to getting value for money out of rugby’s highest earning players.
“We’re not too worried about Tommy’s ability to slot straight back in. We’re obviously just conscious of the fact that it’s a massive game for us and we don’t want to be waiting until the 11th hour to make a decision. We’ve got good depth in and around that position, so we’ll probably make a call on it by Thursday.
Pete Horne, who picked up a knee injury during the team’s bonus point victory over the Toyota Cheetahs on Saturday night, is also looking positive. “We’re confident that he’s going to be OK to play,” said Rennie. “He didn’t train today (Tuesday), but he should be back out running on Thursday.”
Warriors will also welcome back centre Sam Johnson, scrum-half Ali Price and second-row Jonny Gray, who were all rested last week after their Six Nations exploits.