Saracens vs Glasgow Warriors: Sean Maitland prepared for punishing Champions Cup quarter-final after switching sides in Anglo-Scottish rivalry

Not even two weeks will have passed by when the next chapter of rugby’s Anglo-Scottish rivalry kicks off, but today’s clash will have to go some way to surpass the Calcutta Cup draw witnessed in the final day of the Six Nations.

Saracens and Glasgow Warriors have developed a rivalry over the last two years that stands as the little brother in the battle between England and Scotland. This will be the fourth time that the two have met in the Heineken Champions Cup in three seasons, and the fierce desire to get one over the auld enemy applies just as much for the club game as it does the Six Nations.

But if the European quarter-final is to live up to the barely believable 38-38 draw at Twickenham a fortnight ago, it will be some contest.

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Scotland looked like they were dead and buried at 31-0 down, but miraculously they led 38-31 with five minutes to go. “I honestly couldn’t tell you what everyone was feeling,” says Sean Maitland, Saracens’s Scottish secret agent in the ranks who is looking to inflict another defeat on his former side Glasgow this weekend.

The incredible turnaround has been difficult to explain for those involved. Finn Russell, the Scottish fly-half who turned the game on its head and took home the man-of-the-match gong in the process, revealed afterwards that he believes a heated argument with head coach Gregor Townsend was partially to credit.


Six Nations Team of the Tournament





1/24 Six Nations Team of the Tournament

2/24 15. Liam Williams (Wales)

3/24 14. Josh Adams (Wales)

4/24 13. Henry Slade (England)

5/24 12. Hadleigh Parkes (Wales)

6/24 11. Jonny May (England)

7/24 10. Finn Russell (Scotland)

8/24 9. Ben Youngs (England)

9/24 1. Rob Evans (Wales)

10/24 2. Jamie George (England)

11/24 3. Kyle Sinckler (England)

12/24 4. George Kruis (England)

13/24 5. Alun Wyn Jones (Wales)

14/24 6. Josh Navidi (Wales)

15/24 7. Tom Curry (England)

16/24 8. Billy Vunipola (England)

17/24 16. Ken Owens (Wales)

18/24 17. Mako Vunipola (England)

19/24 18. Tomas Francis (Wales)

20/24 19. Cory Hill (Wales)

21/24 20. Justin Tipuric (Wales)

22/24 21. Antoine Dupont (France)

23/24 22. Gareth Anscombe (Wales)

24/24 23. Manu Tuilagi (England)

1/24 Six Nations Team of the Tournament

2/24 15. Liam Williams (Wales)

3/24 14. Josh Adams (Wales)

4/24 13. Henry Slade (England)

5/24 12. Hadleigh Parkes (Wales)

6/24 11. Jonny May (England)

7/24 10. Finn Russell (Scotland)

8/24 9. Ben Youngs (England)

9/24 1. Rob Evans (Wales)

10/24 2. Jamie George (England)

11/24 3. Kyle Sinckler (England)

12/24 4. George Kruis (England)

13/24 5. Alun Wyn Jones (Wales)

14/24 6. Josh Navidi (Wales)

15/24 7. Tom Curry (England)

16/24 8. Billy Vunipola (England)

17/24 16. Ken Owens (Wales)

18/24 17. Mako Vunipola (England)

19/24 18. Tomas Francis (Wales)

20/24 19. Cory Hill (Wales)

21/24 20. Justin Tipuric (Wales)

22/24 21. Antoine Dupont (France)

23/24 22. Gareth Anscombe (Wales)

24/24 23. Manu Tuilagi (England)

“We didn’t get grilled at half-time,” adds Maitland. “Gregor came in – he didn’t grill us or shout at us. The main message was to go out and win the second half. I dunno what was said between Gregor and Finn in the physio room, I didn’t witness that but supposedly they had a few words. It seemed to work, obviously! Finn turned into superman and bloody got man of the match!

“The message was to win the second half, and when we were seven points up with two minutes to go I thought we were going to win. I was gutted afterwards.

“I have never been a part of that – it was crazy.”

But the Six Nations is a chapter that is done and dusted. It’s club rugby duties between now and the end of the season, which means for Maitland he must take off his Scottish hat and don the Sarries cap. It is one well worn, particularly in Europe, with Saracens through to their eighth consecutive European quarter-final and looking to regain the trophy that they won consecutively in 2016 and 2017.

The familiarity spreads not just for Maitland in facing the club he represented for three years upon his move from his native New Zealand to Scotland, but also in that these sides played out two brutal encounters in the pool stage of the Champions Cup. When Glasgow reached the last eight of Europe for the first time in their history, Saracens were ready and waiting and inflicted a crushing 38-13 defeat on what was then Townsend’s side.

It was the first match this season that proved the most punishing. “That first game there was definitely an edge to it,” recalls Maitland. In total, six Saracens left the field broken, with noses smashed, arms fractured and muscles torn. A look at the Glasgow players told a similar story, and while the Premiership team departed Scotland with a slender 13-3 victory, they were left to count the cost. It was one of the rare matches that hurt just to watch.

“There was a lot of off the ball stuff, a lot of pushing and shoving. The second game wasn’t too bad, but for them I’m sure they’re going to come up with a plan on how they want to play us, stop our big ball carriers. We’ve got some big boys in our pack that we want to play with, that’s how we want to play, power rugby and get over the gain line. For them, the guys they’ve selected are really good over the ball so it’s going to be a physical game and I don’t know what plan they come up with but I’m sure there will be an edge like in previous games.

“It’s nothing new. There’s always a few laughs out there for me. I’m a pretty chilled guy, I don’t really get into trouble with all the pushing.”

Yet if it all gets a bit too physical today, Maitland will not be too concerned. There are friends on both sides of the field, with five of the Glasgow squad having stood alongside him in the dark blue of Scotland at Twickenham.

“I am used to it now. It was a bit weird at the start (in 2017), my first year when I finished the Six Nations and there was an event towards the end where we were playing in a couple of weeks. There was not too much this year. I am used to it, this will be the fourth time I have played them, my old team, and the guys that I have been with the last eight weeks.

“The coaches here and the leaders, they do a great job of getting us (ready), this is the business end isn’t it? Knock out rugby. The boys are just excited to be back, they really get us energized and you get motivated.”

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