YOU could say there will be no love lost when Glasgow Warriors go toe to toe with Saracens next Saturday for a place in the semi-finals of the European Champions Cup. However, that is to assume there was any love between the pair in the first place.

Due to the vagaries of the competition structure, Warriors and Sarries meet for a third time in the competition at the weekend, with Warriors' fit-again co-captain Callum Gibbins predicting much the same as those previous ties in the qualifying group stage.

“It’s the Heineken Cup, the best competition in Europe, so it’s going to be heated. There’s always that Scottish-English rivalry as well. Both teams will be well up it for, as they should be,” says Gibbins.

The ill-feeling between the pair was evident when they first met at Scotstoun in October, the English giants branded as arrogant as they left with a hard-fought 13-3 victory, with the previously smiling Maro Itoje and Jamie George departing with their noses broken and the Vunipola brothers crocked. It was a contest, however, that left Glasgow frustrated as it could have been a match they won.

“In the first half, we played with a lot of tempo. We were quite accurate in how we wanted to play and we held onto the ball really well,” the 30-year-old reflected.


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“Against a side with so many international players like Saracens, that’s what you need to do. You’ve got to starve them of the ball, and when you have it, you’ve got to play well with it. In the second half, we were a bit off there. It was pretty even up until half-time, and then in the second half they put us under pressure.”

Second-time around in January, the story was the same. Without Owen Farrell, Saracens eventually won 38-19. But in the first-half, Glasgow trailed just 24-19. If that is cause for optimism on Saturday, the evident dislike and niggle between the two outfits in round two is likely to be a factor again. Not that is worries Gibbins in the slightest.


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“I wasn’t down for the Saracens game in January. I was at home, having just come out of having the operation the day before. I was laid up,” says Gibbins, who has only now recovered from that accident damage caused during the European tie with Cardiff Blues at the turn of the year.

“But when you’re out there trying to stop guys who are running at you, or you’re trying to run over someone, it gets pretty heated. But I think it’s good for the game.”

The history between these teams also suggests Saracens will be odds-on favourites having also won a quarter-final tie two years ago at Allianz Park. Nevertheless, Gibbins believes there is cause for optimism given Warriors latest visit to Hendon.

“When they went down in 2017, it was quite a tough game for them, and then there was the one in January.

“I don’t think we need to change too much, to be honest. When we play the style of rugby we like to, when we play it fast and have got the ball, we’re pretty hard to handle.

“I don’t think we’ll be changing too much in the way we play, because if you change too many things you run the risk of not being so clear. You don’t get on with the job you’ve been doing most of the year.”

While Saracens, and English teams in general, possess juggernaut forward packs, there is a sense that Scots teams – as was witnessed last weekend at Twickenham – do possess more speed and higher fitness levels than those players based in the south.

For certain, we won’t have to wait too long to find out if that is the case. In the meantime, it does add to the positivity within Scots ranks.

“The key to that is holding onto the ball and looking after it. You’ve got to do things well and be accurate, across the whole team. The last time out in the PRO14 [against Zebre], our errors were up around 10 or 12. We need to bring them down below ten.

“If we can hold onto the ball and not cough it up, that’s how you stress teams. Once you’ve done that for 60 minutes, there’s only one thing that’s going to prevail and that’s your fitness.

Scotland as a whole is a pretty fit nation; the national side is pretty fit and we train really hard on our fitness here as well. If we can hold onto the ball, that will come through.”


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Gibbins made his return to action last night against Cheetahs. “It’s great to be back, and I’m really excited. It’s been a while and it’s been frustrating,” he admits.

Saracens, too, have had their injury woes after the Six Nations, including to a certain Mr Itoje, who missed the game against Harlequins yesterday.

“We’re assuming he will be playing,” says Gibbins, almost in expectation. Let round three commence.