Edinburgh's big win over Saracens dulled by falling painfully short of home Heineken Cup tie

The sense of achievement for Edinburgh at claiming the scalp of the dominant club in English rugby, with all their top players in the team, was tempered slightly last night by the margin of victory falling agonisingly short of securing a home draw in the last 16 of the Champions Cup.
Edinburgh's Pierre Schoeman is tackled by Saracens' Hugh Tizard during the Heineken Champions Cup match at the DAM Health Stadium.Edinburgh's Pierre Schoeman is tackled by Saracens' Hugh Tizard during the Heineken Champions Cup match at the DAM Health Stadium.
Edinburgh's Pierre Schoeman is tackled by Saracens' Hugh Tizard during the Heineken Champions Cup match at the DAM Health Stadium.

With the teams equal on league points and points difference in Pool A, Saracens finished ahead of Mike Blair’s side based on tries scored after this 20-14 defeat in the capital, which means they face a home tie against Ospreys on the weekend of March 31 to April 1, while Edinburgh have a much trickier away clash against Leicester Tigers.

Edinburgh started brightly and barged their way into a third-minute lead by kicking a penalty to the corner then battling through several phases on the Saracens line before hooker Dave Cherry picked up from the base of a ruck and powered over. Blair Kinghorn added the conversion and then nudged the home side further ahead when he sent home a penalty from directly in front of the posts just three minutes later after Jamie George was guilty of a high challenge on Pierre Schoeman.

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Saracens recovered and closed the gap back to seven points when Alex Goode kicked the penalty after his forwards had splintered the Edinburgh scrum, but Edinburgh got the benefit of doubt when the next set-piece hit the deck, prompting another period on the ascendancy for the home team. The visitors lost England international hooker Jamie George and Italian international prop Marco Riccioni to the sin-bin for hight tackles and both men could easily have seen red given that there was head-on-head contact on both occasions.

George initially returned to the fray after his ten minutes on the naughty step but was then removed from the match permanently by the independent match doctor at half-time due to a suspected concussion – which could impact his availability for England’s Six Nations opener against Scotland in just under two weeks’ time.

Despite Saracens being reduced to 13 men Edinburgh couldn’t extend their lead, although they came close only for Jamie Ritchie to lose control of the ball as he dived for the line. Having survived that onslaught, Saracens bounced back to narrow the gap to just four points with a second Goode penalty following another collapsed Edinburgh scrum.

It was astonishing that the gap between the two sides on the scoreboard was so narrow given Edinburgh’s domination. The Scottish side had enjoyed 71 per cent of possession during that first 40 minutes. Edinburgh edged further ahead at the start of the second half when Kinghorn fired home a ruck penalty, but then coughed up two kickable penalties, with Goode missing the first from near halfway before slotting the second to, once again, pull the deficit back to just four points.

The key moment in the match came after Maro Itoje was the third visiting player to see yellow for a cynical offside which prevented Henry Pyrgos from moving the ball from the base of an attacking ruck. Edinburgh kicked to the corner and Pierre Schoeman powered over from the line-out maul, with Kinghorn adding the conversion.

As you would expect, Saracens fought right to the end, and they eventually got their reward. A long passage of play led to Billy Vuniploa sending Ben Earl over on the right. Goode failed with the conversion, but Saracens had still doe enough to edge ahead of their opponents in the pool seeding.

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