Stuart McInally has bad memories of Sarries but knows this Edinburgh side is far stronger than class of 2012-13

Edinburgh’s last excursion to play Saracens away in Europe ended in a heavy defeat in the snow in Watford. Chris Ashton was in his pomp for the home side and a young Owen Farrell was pulling the strings.

Snow joke: Edinburgh's Tim Visser gets to grips with Saracens at an icy Vicarage Road in the Heineken Cup in January 2013. Picture: Shutterstock
Snow joke: Edinburgh's Tim Visser gets to grips with Saracens at an icy Vicarage Road in the Heineken Cup in January 2013. Picture: Shutterstock

Sarries won 40-7 that day to end a miserable Heineken Cup campaign for Edinburgh, which had begun with a 45-0 home defeat by the same opponents at Murrayfield and featured four other losses in between.

Fast forward nine years and the sides are preparing to lock horns once more. Saracens have long since relocated to Barnet and will host Mike Blair’s side in the Stonex Stadium on Saturday.

Stuart McInally has also relocated but not quite so far. The Edinburgh co-captain played both games against Sarries in 2012-13 in the back row before making the move to hooker. He has flourished ever since and believes Edinburgh are a different proposition these days, too.

Charlie Hodgson breaks through to score a try for Saracens against Edinburgh in 2013. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

They go into the Challenge Cup opener high on confidence after four consecutive wins in the United Rugby Championship

“It’s brilliant for us, we’ve had a good start to the season, but this is a step up and we’re excited to see where we’re at,” said McInally.

“We’re under no illusions about how tough it’s going to be. They’re a great team, they’re playing good rugby and we know we’ll have to be at our best.”

The Edinburgh team that played Saracens at Vicarage Road in January 2013 were a long short of their best. They had begun the campaign with high expectations having reached the semi-finals the season before, which remains the best ever performance by a Scottish club in Europe’s elite club tournament.

A young Stuart McInally takes on Saracens' Brad Barritt (centre) and Schalk Brits (left) during Edinburgh's Heineken Cup clash at Murrayfield in October 2012. Picture: Chris Clark/PA

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Things unravelled fairly quickly in what was a tough group, with Munster and Racing Metro completing the pool. McInally, Grant Gilchrist and WP Nel survive from that campaign but the two matches against Sarries hold little in the way of happy memories.

“We got gubbed here,” McInally recalled. “Then we went down there in the snow and ice. It was a long time ago.

“It was really disappointing, I remember it. We’d had that good run in Europe the year before and there was a lot of buzz and I guess a bit more expectation around us but we started poorly.

“But, like I said, it was a long time ago and it’s almost a completely new team now. Me and Gilco are probably the last ones standing and hopefully we can go down and get a better result this time.”

“We’re a much stronger team than we were back then. I believe we are in a much better place to go down there and give a better account of Edinburgh. We’re looking forward to it.”

Saracens, like Edinburgh, are going well domestically. Both sides are second in their respective leagues but will the visitors have to change their fast, attacking template at the home of the three-time European champions?

“Our core game strategy won’t change,” insists McInally. “We’re obviously going to try to play at tempo and be physical in defence. But we’ll have a strategy to try to combat where we think they might be weak but we’ll try to keep our identity of playing at that tempo and being physical.”

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