Glasgow v Saracens: Sean Maitland ready for raucous return to Scotstoun
|Heineken Champions Cup|
|Venue: Scotstoun Stadium Date: Sunday, 14 October Kick-off: 15:15 BST|
|Coverage: Live commentary on BBC Radio Scotland, score updates on BBC Radio 5 live, and live text commentary on the BBC Sport website|
Sean Maitland says the chances of his Saracens team taking Glasgow lightly in the Champions Cup on Sunday are zero, or "less than zero" as the Scotland wing puts it.
Maitland reports a sharper edge in training this week on account of Europe, a greater intensity, a keener focus. Given that Saracens have started their Premiership season with six wins from six and have scored 29 tries into the bargain then any upping of standards from the English champions will only serve to make Glasgow's job of taking them down all the more gargantuan.
What a game this should be at Scotstoun.
Maitland, with 34 caps and nine tries, the most recent of them being in that seismic Calcutta Cup victory in February, knows better than any Saracen what lies ahead. He knows all about Glasgow's fine home record against English opposition. He knows it because he helped create it.
Glasgow have won eight of their last nine home European games against English clubs. It's a pretty stellar list of victims - Gloucester, Wasps, Bath, Northampton, Exeter, Bath again, Leicester, Exeter again. In his three seasons at Scotstoun from 2012-2015, Maitland played in three of those wins - Northampton, Exeter and a 37-10 drubbing of Bath.
"Those games were special," he says. "None of them got us qualification but what they did was show how we were slowly getting there. I haven't had to tell the Saracens boys about what Glasgow are like at Scotstoun because they already know. They're pumped for this, trust me.
"We played Glasgow a few years ago in the quarter-final in our place and it was one of the best atmospheres you could have. I mean, I was only in the door at the club but I remember some of the long-serving guys talking about it as possibly the best vibe they'd ever had inside our stadium. Some of that was to do with the travelling support. They came in numbers - and they were loud.
"We were really on it that day (Saracens won 38-13 and went on to successfully defend their title). We played some of our best stuff of the season in those 80 minutes.
"But Glasgow are at home this time and Scotstoun is a pretty vocal place. They'll get on top of you, they'll get on top of the ref. Scotstoun has been sold out for ages. They'll be up for this. If the game is tight they'll be intense right until the end. I hope they're kind to me, but it'll be a brilliant atmosphere. It's gonna be very cool."
Maitland arrived at Saracens just after they won their first Champions Cup and was playing brilliantly in the season of their second, only to be cruelly cut down by an ankle injury that placed him in the stand rather on the wing on the day they beat Clermont at Murrayfield.
"Yeah, one of the biggest lows of my career," he says. "Missing that final was a really hard one to swallow. The boys kept telling me, 'Look, you played most of the games, you're as much a part of this as anybody else' and it was nice to hear, but it wasn't easy watching it all the same."
'Huge hunger' for more European success
Their run of back-to-back Champions Cups was halted by Leinster last season. Two European titles would sate most clubs, but not this club.
"There's a huge hunger to win it back," says Maitland. "We got beaten by a class act in Leinster in the quarters last season and that was fair enough. They went on to win it and they deserved it. But we feel like we're nowhere near done when it comes to Europe.
"We're not looking beyond the group stage, but topping the group and getting a home quarter is very, very important. European rugby is never easy, but we want to lay down a marker down again and if we get an away win in Glasgow then that sets us up. We're a talented squad. When we get going we have big ball-carriers who want to get over the gainline, want to be physical and want to play with speed. We have great leaders to take us around the pitch.
"The entire place is built on a mantra of, 'We will treat you bloody well, but we expect you to work hard for the club' and that's what we do. Our boys really look out for each other and we've created a lot of special memories on and off the pitch. We're making the most of it and not taking it for granted. It's just a great environment to be in. When I'm driving into training, I'm excited."
All the Saracens totems are in the team for Sunday. They are a powerful and relentless crew, a winning machine with five major titles in the last four seasons. Maitland talks about the Vunipolas and Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje and the rest, but focuses on one in particular, the full-back Alex Goode.
Goode has won 21 caps for England, but none of them in the last two years, a spell that has seen him play brilliantly for his club while being ignored by Eddie Jones at Twickenham. His omission has been a bit of a puzzler. "I'm as puzzled as everybody else," says Maitland. "Everybody in the club knows how good he is. He's just such a smart rugby player and he's started this season so well again.
"In the last few seasons Alex has pretty much played every game and his consistency has been incredible. He has so much to do with the way we attack. He's just class. I've watched him up close and if he's deemed not good enough for the next level then I don't know what's going on."
On current form, the top two teams in Europe are probably Leinster and Saracens. Between them they've won the last three Champions Cups and it wouldn't be a shock if they won the next three as well. Glasgow are up against the elite of the elite. Last season they failed in Europe, but they still managed to beat Exeter in Glasgow. That's a warning light to the visitors.
Home advantage makes them dangerous, but nothing less than thunder and lightning on that Scotstoun pitch and up in those Scotstoun stands is going to be good enough to halt Maitland and his formidable chums.
Pick your Warriors XV
Pick your starting XV for this weekend's game