European Champions Cup: Edinburgh 20-14 Saracens

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Bill Mata makes a charge against Saracens
Edinburgh Number 8 Bill Mata makes a charge against Saracens
Edinburgh (10) 20
Try: Cherry, Schoeman Con: Kinghorn 2 Pens: Kinghorn 2
Saracens (6) 14
Try: Earl Pens: Goode 3

Edinburgh’s victory over English Premiership leaders Saracens was not enough to secure a home tie in the European Champions Cup last 16.

Dave Cherry touched down in the first half before Saracens’ front-row forwards Jamie George and Marco Riccioni received yellow cards.

Alex Goode kept the visitors in touch with three penalties.

Pierre Schoeman’s try put Edinburgh in charge, but Ben Earl’s late try earned Saracens a point and fourth place.

It means Saracens will be at home to Ospreys in the next round of the Champions Cup, while Edinburgh, having finished fifth, travel to Leicester.

From the first whistle this was a tumultuous contest, Edinburgh’s early score bringing the raucous home crowd to life. The energy and noise in the Dam Health Stadium in the shadow of Murrayfield never let up all evening.

It was a terrific win for Edinburgh, not terrific enough to get them a home draw in the last 16, but beating the outstanding Saracens was a huge step forward.

That try for Cherry, on the back of Edinburgh’s ferocious aggression and speed in attack, was the kind of start that Mike Blair would have been dreaming about. A Bill Mata blast, a series of rapid-fire pick-and-go’s and over went the hooker. Kinghorn added the conversion and Edinburgh were up and running.

Saracens, imperious in the Premiership, were rattled by Edinburgh’s intensity, typified by the attritional carries by Luke Crosbie. The second quarter of the opening half was when Edinburgh should have built a lead that was insurmountable even against the visitors’ might. They didn’t.

The drama was unrelenting, as was the Saracens defence. Edinburgh’s chances came in steady waves. They had an attacking lineout 5m out, but lost it on the floor. They saw George binned for an upright tackle leading to a head-on collision with Crosbie, then missed a straightforward shot at goal in its wake, Kinghorn screwing it wide.

They saw Riccioni binned for another head-on-head, this one on Grant Gilchrist and could not take advantage. Up against 13 men, Kinghorn went for touch with a penalty – and kicked it dead. Scrummaging against a side scrambling for its life (scrambling brilliantly, it has to be said), Jamie Ritchie drove over the try-line only to drop it as he went.

The siege on the Saracens line lasted a veritable age. Edinburgh bust a gut to break through a white wall, but couldn’t find a chink. The fact that Saracens finished the 15 versus 13 minutes without conceding a point was an astonishing reflection of their resilience and of Edinburgh’s lack of ruthlessness.

The added kick in the teeth came when Saracens went downfield, won an aerial battle, secured a penalty and banged over a penalty to narrow the gap to four points. The home fans looked at each other in disbelief, each of them surely wondering what on earth was going on.

There was confusion, too, when George returned to the action the midst of all of that. When his head collided with Crosbie’s, the hooker got to his feet and for a second he looked unsteady on his feet. He was yellow-carded, but nobody expected to see him again. He reappeared, then disappeared again, failing to come out for the restart. Questions to be answered there for Saracens.

The question that Edinburgh needed to answer was how to break Saracens’ defence. Kinghorn’s penalty early in the second half helped push the gap out to seven, Goode’s penalty soon after bringing it back down to four. It was still all Edinburgh attack and all Saracens resistance.

A mounting penalty count did for Maro Itoje on the hour-mark, the lock walking for cynical infringing while under the cosh. Edinburgh have shown a flakiness in these situations on numerous occasions this season, but they were inspired by Mata and Cherry and their chums up front.

What Edinburgh failed to do against 13, they did against 14. Another shot at the Saracens line saw Schoeman driven out from a lineout maul, forwards and backs required to shunt the visitors backwards. Kinghorn put over the conversion and Edinburgh led by 11.

The Dam Health, albeit in its infancy, had never known an atmosphere like this one, the decibel level only ratcheting upwards when Saracens, with Itoje restored, went after the win in the closing minutes.

They were helped by Sam Skinner’s absence at that point, the big lock having been yellow carded with eight minutes to go. Three minutes later, Earl, galloping up the left wing to score, caused all sorts of local turbulence.

Goode missed the conversion, the difference was six, the permutations of who would play who and where were being calculated and recalculated amid a cacophony.

Edinburgh needed more points to get a home draw in the last 16, but couldn’t quite make it. That spot went instead to Saracens. Consolation on a dramatic evening.

Edinburgh: Immelman, Blain, Bennett, Lang, Kinghorn, Savala, Vellacott; Schoeman, Cherry, Nel, Skinner, Gilchrist, Ritchie, Crosbie, Mata.

Replacements: McBurney, Venter, Atalifo, Hodgson, Haining, Pyrgos, Hutchison, Goosen.

Saracens: Daly, Malins, Lozowski, Tompkins, Maitland, Goode, van Zyl; Hislop, George, Riccioni, Itoje, Tizard, Christie, Earl, B Vunipola.

Replacements: Pifeleti, Mawi, Judge, Isiekwe, Dan, Davies, Vunipola, Lewington.



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