It finished as it started for Edinburgh, as a dismal Heineken Cup campaign ended with another thumping from Saracens, with last year’s buoyant march to the semi-finals seeming like a distant memory.
That great run last year, as Toulouse, Racing Metro and Cardiff Blues were cut down, suggested a massive upward swing in fortunes for Edinburgh, but it just did not happen for Michael Bradley’s men and they never recovered from the 45-0 thrashing inflicted at Murrayfield by the charges of his Irish compatriot Mark McCall.
Yesterday’s 40-7 defeat at a snow-covered Vicarage Road had an air of predictability about it and while Edinburgh did put up a genuine battle against a side needing a win to reach the quarter-finals, they were eventually overrun.
Sarries also needed to bag a bonus point to secure home advantage in the quarter-finals — the opposition was subsequently confirmed as McCall’s former Ulster side — but given the Londoners have played “home” matches at six different venues, heaven knows where that will take place. For Edinburgh, it is impossible to ignore a pool whitewash in the Heineken Cup, not least after last year’s exploits.
Bradley, asked if he was concerned for his job, said that decision was out of his hands.
“It was a very disappointing campaign for us,” he said. “I’m in the second year of a two-year contract so it is up to the people who employ me as to whether they want to extend that or not.
“I think the detail in terms of the work we do as a coaching team, and I would do as head coach, and where we are trying to bring Edinburgh, that has to be looked at in terms of the big picture but, obviously, I’m not in control of it so we will see what happens there.”
Edinburgh battled early on, but conceding penalties anywhere from halfway is conceding points against Owen Farrell and the Sarries man, selected in the centre, slotted three kicks in the opening 22 minutes to build a 9-0 lead. Sarries, however, needed tries more than penalties and they got the first after 27 minutes when Chris Ashton got to a Richard Wigglesworth grubber in the in-goal area in the right corner.
Farrell missed his first kick on 28 minutes when he hit the right post from the touchline conversion. Edinburgh then started to build phases and got their reward, albeit with a stroke of fortune, after 32 minutes when Wigglesworth made a mess of a chip from Greig Tonks and the Edinburgh full-back was rewarded for his chase to hack ahead and then display admirable handling skills to dive and collect and slide over.
Greig Laidlaw added the points to make it 14-7 and it remained that way to the break, with Edinburgh opting for a penalty to the corner, which was defended, rather than go for points from a kickable position three minutes from the interval.
Sarries’ second score was a stroke of opportunism and great skill. They were awarded a penalty, but, as everyone presumed Farrell, with the ball in his hands, was about to opt for a kick at the posts, he dispatched a wonderful high kick which Ashton collected on the bounce to dive over in the right corner for an excellent score.
For all of Edinburgh’s efforts, it was fairly predictable that Sarries would push on from there and get the bonus point, with Matt Stevens barging over after 53 minutes to extend the lead to 26-7.
Yet, as Edinburgh battled away, Sarries supporters in the crowd of 5673 were getting nervous as the game headed into the final six minutes with just three tries on the board, but they finished strongly with the superb Charlie Hodgson nailing the bonus point when he stepped inside Laidlaw and then full-back Chris Wyles crossed in the final play to bring the curtain down on what Bradley said was a disappointing campaign.
“It wasn’t just this match,” he said. “When you look at our first game against Sarries, we went into that game full of confidence and expectation and excitement bearing in mind how we went last year and it was just a bad day for us.
“Sarries were very sharp, played the game in the right areas and we didn’t take our chances early on and in a period in the second-half, and it went from bad to worse for us then.
“Sarries and Munster are top sides. We played Racing Metro last year and we got over the line twice against them and this year they got over the line. That was an even enough contest, but Sarries and Munster were better than us in the four matches we played against them and we have to factor that in as well.”
Saracens: Tries: Ashton (2), Stevens, Hodgson, Wyles. Cons: Farrell (3). Pens: Farrell (3)
Edinburgh: Try: Tonks. Con: Laidlaw
Saracens: C Wyles; C Ashton (D Taylor 62), O Farrell, B Barritt (J Tomkins 72), D Strettle; C Hodgson, R Wigglesworth (N de Kock 52); M Vunipola (R Gill 57), S Brits (J Smit 57), M Stevens; S Borthwick, G Kruis; K Brown (O du Plessis 66), W Fraser (N Fenton-Wells 73), E Joubert (M Botha 62).
Edinburgh: G Tonks; D Fife, B Cairns, M Scott (B Atiga 75), T Visser (L Jones 72); G Laidlaw (P Francis 75), R Rees; R Hislop (A Allen 52), S Lawrie (A Titterrell 52), W Nel; G Gilchrist, S Cox (P Parker 52); S McInally, D Basilaia, N Talei.
Referee: J Garces (France).