Glasgow Warriors’ reward for reaching the quarter-finals of the European Rugby Champions Cup for the first time is defending champions Saracens – “the best team in Europe in the last two years” according to head coach Gregor Townsend.
Toulouse’s 19-10 defeat of Connacht in France yesterday meant that the Warriors will be headed for the Allianz Stadium in Hendon rather than back to Munster for their quarter-final. The Irish team potentially await in the semi-finals if Glasgow can beat Saracens.
The Warriors qualified for the last eight in Europe for the first time in style with a record 43-0 rout of twice champions Leicester Tigers at Welford Road on Saturday, but finishing second in their pool meant they were destined to play a quarter-final on away territory.
“I’m a big admirer of what Saracens have done on and off the field, how they built the club and how they have learned from close defeats and become stronger for it,” said Townsend.
“We should be playing on a 3G pitch as we do at home and that is something we will embrace. Having the game in London is great for us as we would expect to get a lot of support travelling down and also I would hope that Scots in London will buy tickets as well.”
Townsend said he and his fellow coaches’ analysis of Saracens would have to be “the best we’ve ever done on a team”.
“They haven’t lost a game in Europe in the past two seasons,” he continued. “Over the past fortnight they have found ways to avoid defeat in tight games against Toulon and Scarlets.
“They’ve got a great team from the pack of forwards, the halfbacks and the backline. Every team has chinks in its armour and there is always somewhere you could put pressure on an opposition. But there won’t be many.”
Townsend continued that he felt “tremendous pride” at the performance, but felt it before the game had even started.
“I felt it at the beginning of the game, just seeing so many Glasgow supporters there,” he went on. “To see the number who came down and hear the noise they created was just amazing.
“I was pleased with how we played at Munster last week. We fills me with pride that we can punch above our weight at pro level.”
He also knew before the Leicester game that his team could beat anyone in Europe at any venue.
“We’ve got to have that mindset,” he stressed. “We beat Racing 92 twice this year. The disappointments we’ve had in big games over the past few years, but also the ones we’ve won, mean we are a better team than we were a year ago.
“We’ve not been in a quarter final before but we have been in a few playoff games in the PRO12. This is a new and exciting chapter and we will just see what happens.”
And Townsend feels that both Glasgow and Edinburgh’s success in qualifying for the final stages bodes well for Scotland’s Six Nations campaign.
“There are 16 Glasgow guys in the Scotland squad and they will take huge confidence,” he said. “Edinburgh’s result was excellent too because they qualified and had a sell-out crowd at their new home, and beating Harlequins away was great.
You’ve got players standing up and playing really well who are going to be involved with Scotland. There’s no better time to do that than two weeks before the Six Nations starts.
“Scottish supporters should be very optimistic about what is coming up in the next few months and few years.”
Glasgow could face Munster again if both progress from their quarter-finals, but if the Warriors win against Saracens they are guaranteed home country advantage in the semi-final no matter if the Irish province or Toulouse win their clash in Limerick
Meanwhile Edinburgh will face France’s La Rochelle in the Challenge Cup quarter-finals, and will also have home country advantage in the semi-finals if they progress.