Saracens is a test of Edinburgh’s progress - but Challenge Cup format leaves Mike Blair slightly baffled

Mike Blair was disappointed that his Edinburgh side had failed to entertain sufficiently in front of their own fans as they beat Benetton on Friday night but the coach is canny enough to know that a more prudent approach is likely to be required when they travel to Barnet to take on Saracens on Saturday.

Edinburgh scored four tries in the 24-10 win over Benetton but Mike Blair felt they could have entertained the fans more. Emiliano Boffelli, pictured, got the second try. (Photo by Paul Devlin / SNS Group)

There is more than one way to skin a cat and for all that Edinburgh possess great potency in attack they are unlikely to be afforded the time and space that has allowed them to record three bonus point victories in a row in the United Rugby Championship.

Blair’s team have been a breath of fresh air this season, particularly at home where they play with speed and flair. But next weekend’s European Challenge Cup opener at the Stonex Stadium is a step up in class against a side more accustomed to playing in the elite Champions Cup, a tournament they have won three times in the last six seasons.

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Asked if the Saracens match would be the truest test so far of his side’s formidable attacking capabilities, Blair demurred.

“It is not just about attack,” said the Edinburgh coach. “It is about balance in our games - playing in a certain way against different opposition or different conditions. We had to play more against Dragons [last weekend] in that first half because there was no point in kicking the ball into the wind.

“Against Saracens there might be other opportunities to open up. We might have to kick more, make them play from deeper, create counter-attack ball from that. Or it might be that we use short sides more or lean towards playing in one way.

“It will definitely be a great test for us in terms of where we are and where we can get to.”

Blair admits he has yet to get his head around the new format for the Challenge Cup but he will not be treating the competition lightly. “We are certainly going to go hard at it,” he said.

Saracens will host Edinburgh in the European Challenge Cup in Barnet on Saturday. (Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

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Edinburgh and Saracens find themselves in Pool C alongside London Irish, Brive and Pau, a formidable group which would not look out of place in the Champions Cup.

The uneven number of teams in the three five-team pools makes scheduling a little messy. Teams play each other only once and Edinburgh have a free weekend after the Saracens game before facing London Irish (away) and Brive (home) in January. There is then a three-month gap until they host Pau in their final group match in April.

And then it gets complicated. A competition which starts with 15 clubs in the group stage will then proceed to a last 16.

Edinburgh coach Mike Blair believes the match against Saracens will be “a great test for us in terms of where we are and where we can get to”. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)

The three highest-ranked clubs from each pool, and the highest-ranked fourth-placed club will all qualify for the knockout phase and they will be joined by six drop-outs from the Champions Cup.

“We will start looking into it when it is the last couple of games of the league and we have to work out if we need two points, three points, five points to qualify,” said Blair who cheerily admits that the formats of both the URC and Europe have left him slightly baffled.

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