EDINBURGH would be forgiven for wishing they had agreed to play their last Heineken Cup pool game in Cape Town after all, to at least end their European season in pleasant conditions, after succumbing to a Saracens side as unrelenting as the snow.
Scorers: Saracens – Try: Ashton 2, Stevens, Hodgson, Wyles Con: Farrell 3 Pens: Farrell 3. Edinburgh: Try: Tonks Con: Laidlaw.
Edinburgh head coach Michael Bradley was in no mood to make excuses immediately after his side’s sixth loss in the pool. “It would have been hard to deny Saracens. They were by far and away the better side, they deserved their win and they deserved to get the bonus point as well. They deserved their luck on the day.”
However, after another torturous day he was not so sure of his own future.
He added: “Obviously this was a very disappointing campaign for us. I am in my second year of a two-year contract, so it is up to the people whether they want to extend my contract or not. I think the detail and the work that we do as a coaching team and I do as head coach, and where we are trying to get Edinburgh, that has to be looked at I suppose, in terms of the ‘bigger picture’. I am not in control of that.”
The intention of both teams was clear enough at kick-off anyway, as they conspired to send ball skyward as soon as the pace lagged. Without rhythm this quickly became an examination of players’ handling skills and ability to take a hit.
Sporting a limited edition white shirt that looked for all the world like a blood-spattered snowscape, several Edinburgh players dropped the ball or gave up vital yards while their counterparts in black and red made menaces of themselves, shifting passes to one of their three kicking outlets.
One such outlet was the red-hot Owen Farrell, fresh from his heroics in round five when he clipped over 32 points against Racing Metro. Despite playing outside experienced kicker Charlie Hodgson on this occasion, no-one was willing to mess with the young man’s mojo, allowing him the freedom to take the place kicks. He duly obliged ten minutes in, as Saracens demanded a penalty from a particularly brutal scrum.
After the fly-half-cum-centre helped himself to the first three-pointer of the afternoon, his pack set about trying to give him as many opportunities as possible. As the Saracens scrum continued to hurt their rivals, Farrell opted to kick two more penalties, with one firing through from over 40 metres.
Edinburgh were not completely starved of ball, with Netani Talei, Steven Lawrie and Greig Tonks trying their utmost to blast a half gap here and there, but a strict remit was in place. Time after time Greig Laidlaw felt the need to dink over the top of Saracens onrushing back row, and time after time Ben Cairns and Matt Scott could not make it.
On the other side, Charlie Hodgson and Richard Wigglesworth enjoyed time and space to pick their spot as they dispatched touch-finders.
The first try of the afternoon was sprung from such an effort. Captain Steve Borthwick and Schalk Brits carried harshly round the corner and with time to work his backs into the corner, Wigglesworth threaded a grubber. Chris Ashton was the only player on hand and slid through unchallenged.
Leading 14-0, Saracens relaxed. They were fully prepared to sit in the pocket and net Edinburgh’s attempted kicks.
They relaxed too much, however, as Chris Wyles tucked himself in to wait for a swirling ball offered by Tonks. The Saracens full-back spilled it and, as Tonks reached him, he showed the touch of a seasoned striker in rounding Wyles with the ball at his feet, before prodding it forward and diving on it to even the try count.
Talei and Tonks continued to offer themselves up and Edinburgh would be forgiven for thinking they had the hosts rattled in the second half, particularly after Farrell began missing kicks. What they had not accounted for was England’s young pretender showing some invention, though. As Edinburgh strolled back from another penalty, Farrell unlatched a cross-field punt and Ashton gleefully gobbled up the ball for his second.
The visitors, suitably enraged by the officials failing to notice Saracens had already brought on the tee, attempted to add some venom to their play. Sean Cox snarled and snapped, as he always does in these situations, but was met by a racing ton of Brad Barritt.
Laidlaw tried to keep a handle on his side while Charlie Hodgson called for patience from his. The ball was sent to the corner and Stevens rode his pack of hungry forwards all the way to the line for a third score.
Edinburgh played the rest of the match with all the discipline of a training game and eventually coughed up the bonus point try to a dummying Hodgson and a fifth to Wyles.
Sacarens: Wyles, Ashton (Taylor 60), Farrell, Barritt (Tomkins 73), Strettle; Hodgson, Wigglesworth (De Kock 53); Vunipola (Gill 56), Brits (Smit 56), Stevens (Du Plessis 66), Borthwick, Kruis, Brown, Fraser (Fenton-Wells 73), Joubert (Botha 60).
Edinburgh: Tonks, Fife, Cairns, Scott (Atiga 75), Visser (Jones 72); Laidlaw, Rees; Hislop (Allan 52), Lawrie (Titterrell 52), Nel (Cross 71), Gilchrist, Cox (Parker 52), McInally, Basilaia, Talei.