Saracens 38 Glasgow 13: Chris Ashton bags a brace as reigning champions secure semi-final against Munster

Mick Cleary
Chris Ashton scores a try for Saracens - Getty Images Europe

This is one part of the land that has no intention of rupturing ties with Europe, the Saracens faithful in the record 15,000 crowd paying due homage at the final whistle as their team surged into the semi-final for the fifth year in succession, extending an unbeaten run in this competition to 16 matches.  

If any side can beat the Dublin hoodoo it is Saracens who travel to the Aviva Stadium, a graveyard for both England and Wasps over the last fortnight, to take on a revitalised Munster.

Home or away, Saracens do not deviate from their essence: graft, intelligence, awareness and potency are their watchwords, all on display on a sprightly spring day. 

Squeeze hard and then strike even harder is the Saracens way. They have broadened their horizons this season, playing wider, off-loading, taking risks, as shown by the four-try haul.

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That is how it was against Glasgow who simply could not get a foothold, strive and grapple as they did, their brief rally after half-time fading as Saracens grew.  It might have been worse as Saracens had three tries turned down by the TMO.   

On this evidence, it will take a mighty Munster effort to deny them. There have, of course, been a few of those down the years. But miracles again it might have to be.  

“When you see them play like that, they are very difficult to beat,” said Glasgow head coach Gregor Townsend, whose battered side face Munster in the Pro12 next weekend.

It was a trademark performance by the defending champions, full of grit and spice. The graft of the likes of unsung Jackson Wray and Michael Rhodes in the pack complemented by the shrewd game-management of scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth and the sharp-shooting finishing of Chris Ashton, whose two tries took him to 36 in the competition, a landmark in its own right as it took him level with the best there has been, Toulouse’s Vincent Clerc. 

Chris Ashton has a try disallowed Credit: REX FEATURES

There are few better finishers in the world than Ashton, although a defensive Achilles heel was on show when he was brushed off by Glasgow wing Lee Jones, (along with Alex Goode), as the pummelled Warriors threatened to come off the ropes shortly after the interval.

But the sheer predatory force of Ashton’s game, his alertness, his tracking, is an asset to any team. The 30 year-old scored two, and had work to do to round them off, and was also involved in the build-up to the two other tries. That’s not a bad return for an afternoon’s work. He will be sorely missed when he leaves for Toulon at the end of the season.

Saracens are not without flaws and have some ground to make up in the Premiership to secure a home semi-final. But their status in Europe is assured, but they are fully aware that an Aviva Stadium packed to the rafters with Munster fans presents a different order of challenge.

Schalk Brits makes a break Credit: GETTY IMAGES

“We all know that there will be a huge emotional element in play that day and we have to create an awareness of what is coming our way,” said Saracens head coach Mark McCall. “But we have a team that relishes these kind of occasions. Glasgow brought 5,000 supporters with them, had built up for this game and we knew we had to deaden that by coming out of the blocks really well. And we did. The team was engaged and alive. It was a really strong performance.”

It certainly was, good fare for the mighty crowd in the specially-extended stadium, boosted by that hefty and hearty travelling contingent.

Glasgow were hampered by the early loss of their captain, lock Jonny Gray, to a head injury but, in truth, it was clear that Saracens were in their pomp and it would have taken an exceptional all-round performance to stem their flow.

Sean Maitland and Ashton were both denied by a whisker in those hell-for-leather opening stages but such was Saracens’ superiority that it was inevitable points would eventually come.

They initially did through the boot of Owen Farrell who struck three from four attempts, Finn Russell landing one for the Warriors. But so much pressure had to tell, especially with Ashton hovering at every turn. The wing still had a fair bit to do when the ball reached him on the half-hour mark, but he knows where that try line is and rolled through the tackle of Russell to touchdown.

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Saracens' first-half dominance was not reflected in the 14-3 scoreline at the break, reduced still further when a neat dink by Russell in the 48th minute was collected by Jones who shrugged off the attempts of Goode and Ashton to race over.

That was probably the spur Saracens needed. Even though impressively-feisty flanker Ryan Wilson got another try at the death, the Warriors were well and truly bested.

“Saracens were outstanding and that was painful for our players,” acknowledged Townsend, who takes over with Scotland this summer. “We didn’t deliver today. The support we had shows how far we have come but Saracens showed how much work needs to be done to be able to take the next step.”

Saracens became ever stronger, replacement hooker Schalk Brits injecting real pace, featuring in the build-up to Brad Barritt’s try in the 63rd minute, while a lovely little step from Goode helped tee up Ashton for a fitting finale two minutes from time. Onwards to Dublin.          

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