The Edinburgh coach has questioned how motivated Saracens were last year, the inference being that the three-time European champions were slumming it in the second-tier Challenge Cup. Now both clubs are back in the Heineken Champions Cup and Blair expects Sarries to raise their game accordingly, particularly up front.
“It is going to be like a Test match, with the quality team that they are able to put out,” said Blair. “They’ve gone for a six-two bench [six forwards, two backs] which tells a little bit of a story, I think, that they are going to come hard at us like Munster did last week.”
Munster’s mongrel edge saw them turn a 7-17 deficit into a 38-17 victory last Friday and Blair knows his side cannot afford to collapse like they did in the second half against opponents who have won all nine of their league games this season. “Experience is important, but it’s more that mind-set, for me, about going out with the belief that we can do something really special, because winning at Saracens would be really special for the club,” added the coach.
They’ve done it before, of course, and last season’s 21-18 win in Barnet was an early indicator that Blair was having a transformative impact on Edinburgh. But the coach chose to play down the significance of the result.
“It’s dangerous to take something from it because I don’t believe Saracens will have had the same motivation for that game as they do for this,” he said. “They’re back in the Champions Cup, they have a really good record in the competition and they’ll be setting their stall out to win the thing again. They’re nine from nine in the Premiership.
“We’ve got to take some confidence from the fact that we have gone down there and beaten them but not let that be the overriding fact. Understand what it took to win that game around our defence, out physicality, our smarts in particular in really bad conditions, and hang on to them and push them through, rather than thinking, ‘we’ve done it before so we’ll do it again’. It’s going to be a much bigger test this time around.”
The degree of difficulty is increased by the absence of Darcy Graham, ruled out until February with a knee injury. Wes Goosen takes over on the wing and Emiliano Boffelli returns to the team at full-back. Chris Dean suffered a head knock against Munster, meaning James Lang starts at inside centre, and there is one change in the pack with hooker Stuart McInally preferred to Patrick Harrison. Damien Hoyland is on the bench and is in line to make his 100th Edinburgh appearance.
Defeat would not be terminal for Edinburgh but it would increase the pressure on them to take something from next week’s home game against Castres. Intriguingly, the French club’s coach Pierre-Henry Broncan says that sacked England coach Eddie Jones may be about to join them as a consultant. He can expect a warm welcome at the DAM Health.