By King Zak
October 15 2012
The pre-match conversation in the Roseburn was one very much of concern and the need to be wary of a dangerous Edinburgh side who reached the semi finals last year – beating Toulouse on the way and only losing out to Ruan Pienaar’s boot in the semi. The end product was something of which Fred Dibnah would have been proud.
Edinburgh got the game under way; reclaiming Laidlaw’s excellent kick and immediately putting Saracens under pressure. Tim Visser made a run from deep and opened up the space for Brown on the right wing. He chose to chip ahead when keeping the ball in hand may have been a better option; Wigglesworth dealt well with the kick then compounded Brown’s misjudgement by putting the ball back beyond half way.
The Sarries defence was even sharper and quicker than usual, putting the home side under immense pressure and forcing several errors. This gave the platform from which Saracens could start to exert some pressure of their own. As the forwards pressed towards the Edinburgh try line, Vunipola seemed to miss an overlap opportunity but quick thinking from Wigglesworth taking a tap penalty kept the ball moving and ultimately allowed Tomkins to squeeze in at the corner. Hodgson was able to convert from the right touchline to give Sarries a lead of 0-7 after 13 minutes.
The scrum was its usual lottery, with referee Lacey seemingly adopting the ‘one for you, one for them’ policy of awarding penalties. Sadly for Edinburgh, the one they conceded was within Charlie range and he duly made it 0-10 after 23 mins. The Saracens defence was outstanding and helped them to take the upperhand, although Edinburgh were frequently the architects of their own demise through a series of handling errors. Further indiscipline cost them two more Hodgson penalties before halftime, whilst Laidlaw was unable to make his one opportunity, from long range, count. A halftime score of 0-16 and alarm bells must have been ringing loud and clear in the home dressing room. It was as if they had never watched a video of Saracens play; they were merely throwing the ball around with no cohesion and were consistently hit well behind the gain line. They appeared leaderless, clueless and 0/10 for homework (maybe Neil Back’s dog ate it).
The second half saw two key losses for Edinburgh, with neither Laidlaw nor Visser returning from the dressing room – they were replaced by the youngsters Leonard & Fife. If Sarries had been in control in the first half, they totally dominated the second 40; despite losing Brits to the sin bin 3 minutes after the restart. Saracens were in a good attacking position on the Edinburgh 22 when Hodgson’s attempted inside pass was intercepted by Rees. He set off downfield, hotly pursued by Brits & Fraser. The defenders caught him just short of the try line but Brits was adjudged to have ‘not released’ in the tackle – I suspect he had used all his energy in the chase back and just couldn’t be bothered to let go. It was a close call as Rees was completely isolated (where were the support players?). The yellow card was inevitable and Brits seemed relieved to have a rest after his lung-busting run.
This presented Edinburgh with their first real attacking position of the game. They opted for a 5m lineout and promptly dropped the ball! With Smit replacing Fraser for the ‘resting’ Brits, the scrum remained solid and they were able to clear their lines.
The Edinburgh error was compounded following another Hodgson penalty from long range to give Sarries a lead of 0-19 after 50 mins. De Kock replaced Wigglesworth before the restart – a happy sight following the former’s departure on a stretcher last week.
Edinburgh did offer another threat when Goode failed to deal with a high bouncing ball. Good defensive work from Strettle denied the try but at the expense of a 5m scrum. Once again, the home team showed their naivety and lack of planning; slow pick and drive against the ‘9min 9 sec’ defence is like food and drink to the meanest of defences. After half a dozen failed attempts, Borthwick made a crucial tackle that allowed Vunipola to get his hands on the ball and win the penalty.
Further replacements saw Gill, Kruis & Farrell come on for Vunipola, Botha & Tomkins; Saull also entered the fray as blood replacement for Kelly Brown. The impact was immediate; Farrell had been on the pitch for just 30 seconds when he received an inside pass from Ashton on the right wing and raced to score in the corner. Hodgson failed with the kick this time but the only question remaining now was if Saracens could achieve a try bonus point with 20 minutes to play.
It took just 5 minutes for the third try to arrive; following quick ball and slick passing (yes, this WAS Saracens!) a sublime inside pass from Hodgson allowed Ashton to score untouched to the left of the posts. It was due reward for another industrious performance from the winger who has shown a real eagerness to be involved in all facets of the game since his arrival. Hodgson added the conversion to take the lead out to 0-31. Sarries then ‘cleared the bench’ as Smit replaced Brits (for the second time); Wyles came on for Strettle and du Plessis for Stevens.
The bonus point try arrived on 68 minutes courtesy of Goode. It was pure training ground stuff; 1st phase ball from the lineout, slick passing along the line (notably from Ashton) and Goode scored in the left corner. Hodgson made the challenging kick look easy and it was job done. The forwards clearly thought they needed to ‘up’ their game; having caught the restart just outside their own 22, they took a driving maul to the edge of the other 22 – I was convinced they were going to go all the way to the try line! It was a thing of awesome strength and epitomised their dominance.
A FIFTH TRY arrived on 75 minutes when ‘Charge-down Charlie’ struck again – a pleasing habit in recent appearances at Murrayfield. He also added the conversion to give a final score of 0-45.
It had been as one-sided a game as you could imagine. As the Edinburgh fan sitting next to me opined, “Men against boys, and not very good boys at that!” The gulf in class and rugby nous was as wide as the Grand Canyon.
In many ways it’s hard to assess how good Sarries were given how poorly Edinburgh played. Strong defence forced early errors but there was no excuse for the catalogue of errors that littered the home teams’ game as the match progressed.
Amongst an all round excellent team performance I would highlight the tireless work of the backrow, in which Fraser was tigerish in the tackle (I use that term in ALL it’s rugby context). Ashton sought work all over the field; Goode, bar his one error, once again displayed awareness and calmness that most fullbacks can only dream of. However, the two stand out players for me were Borthwick & Hodgson. I was trying to decide who my MoM would be between these two when ‘Charge-down’ struck, just swinging it in his favour to my mind; although I have no qualms with the official verdict going to Borthwick. These two ‘veterans’, no longer concerned with international matters, are playing with a freedom, enjoyment and assurance not always seen in earlier years.
So, the Sarries bandwagon rolls onto Brussels next week and a ‘home’ game against Racing Metro – Belgian beer anyone?
Edinburgh: 15 Brown, 14 Jones, 13 de Luca, 12 Scott, 11 Visser, 10 Laidlaw, 9 Rees,
1 Yapp, 2 Ford, 3 Nel, 4 Gilchrist, 5 Cox, 6Denton, 7 Rennie, 8 McInally
Replacements: 16 Titterall, 17 Hislop, 18 Cross, 19 McAlpine, 20 Talei, 21 Leck,
22 Leonard, 23Fife
Saracens: 15 Goode, 14 Ashton, 13 Tomkins, 12 Barritt, 11 Strettle, 10 Hodgson,
9 Wigglesworth, 1 Vunipola, 2 Brits, 3 Stevens, 4 Borthwick, 5 Botha, 6 Brown, 7 Fraser, 8 Wray
Replacements: 16 Smit, 17, Gill, 18 du Plessis, 19 Kruis, 20 Saull, 21 de Kock, 22 Farrell, 23 Wyles
Referee: John Lacey
Thanks for the excellent report.
My only regret is that I have no game to look forward to next week since the powers that be have decided to playit in Belgium.
I suppose I may get to use this bliddy season ticket that I paid for,eventually!