A quick summary of how the competition is going to work this season (Covid allowing). With Marseilles at last getting their finals on the weekend of May 27th.

Pool Stage

Clubs were allocated into three pools of five – Pool A, Pool B and Pool C.

The pool stage will consist of five rounds with each club playing four matches home or away against opponents in its own pool. One club in each pool will have a bye in every round.

Four match points for a win, two match points for a draw. A bonus point will be awarded to a club scoring four or more tries and to a club losing by seven points or fewer.

If two or more clubs are equal on match points, their ranking will be determined as follows:
(i) the best aggregate points difference from the pool stage; or
(ii) if equal, the number of tries scored in the pool stage; or
(iii) if equal, the club with the fewest number of players suspended for disciplinary incidents in the pool stage; or
(iv) if equal, by drawing lots.

Knockout Stage – Round of 16

2.5 The three highest-ranked clubs in Pool A, the three highest-ranked clubs in Pool B, the three highest-ranked clubs in Pool C, and the highest-ranked fourth-placed club, as well as the three clubs ranked 9 to 11 from each of the Heineken Champions Cup pools, will qualify for the Round of 16.

2.6 The ranking of the clubs which qualify for the Round of 16 will be as follows:
(i) the Challenge Cup pool winners will be ranked 1st to 3rd
(ii) the Challenge Cup pool runners-up will be ranked 4th to 6th
(iii) the two leading Challenge Cup third-placed clubs will be ranked 7th and 8th
(iv) the remaining Challenge Cup third-placed club will be ranked 15th
(v) the fourth-placed Challenge Cup club will be ranked 16th
(vi) the six Heineken Champions Cup qualifiers will be ranked 9th to 14th

2.7 The Round of 16 matches, in which Challenge Cup qualifiers have home advantage, will be as follows:

Match 1: CC ranked 1 v CC ranked 10
Match 2: CC 
ranked 2 v CC ranked 9
Match 3: CC ranked 3 v HCC ranked 6
Match 4: CC ranked 4 v HCC ranked 5
Match 5: CC ranked 8 v HCC ranked 1
Match 6: CC ranked 7 v HCC ranked 2
Match 7: CC 
ranked 6 v HCC ranked 3
Match 8: CC 
ranked 5 v HCC ranked 4

Quarter-finals

2.8 The quarter-final matches will be as follows (home advantage TBC):

QF 1: winner Match 1 v winner Match 8
QF 2: winner Match 4 v winner Match 5
QF 3: 
winner Match 2 v winner Match 7
QF 4: 
winner Match 3 v winner Match 6

Saracens and Edinburgh are in Pool C with London Irish, Brive and Pau. London Irish started their campaign with a bonus point win away at Pau.

Edinburgh came to The Stonex Stadium with 5 wins from 7 in the United Rugby Championship, sitting second to Leinster. Saracens had 6 wins from 9 and second place in the Premiership table. It was a nasty wet day in North London, with A brother living near Edinburgh I know that wouldn’t have bothered the visitors.

Alex Goode, captain for the day

Saracens hadn’t fared well with their co-captain offering in the Premiership against Exeter, so I was pleased to see just the one, in the shape of Alex Goode on the pitch. I’m sure there will have been a forwards “captain’ but not one who was going to be chatting to Sir. Annoyingly the ref link wasn’t in action which meant for one long stoppage in particular we had no idea what was going on. there certainly didn’t seem to be an issue on the big screens and after much too-ing and fro-ing a simple knock on was the end result. Speed of decision making has to be a desire for this game, especially with the potential for new fans.

Nick Isekwie was announced as starting but Maro Itoje passed a late Covid test

Funnily I’m sitting on a train heading to Edinburgh as I write this and I’m not sure I have too much to say. This was an underwhelming performance by the home team and it did feel to a degree that either this is a competition the team isn’t gunning for, or they underestimated an in form Edinburgh.

I confess that I hadn’t realised until now that Ben Vellacott started at 9 for Edinburgh, a promising Fly Half lost to England now I imagine, he is qualified for both, he’s played at Under 20 level for Scotland. Edinburgh’s new signing for the season, Argentinian Emiliano Boffelli started the score board off with a penalty from the half way line, a good sign of his abilities, he’d add a further 2 penalties during the game as Edinburgh kept the scoreboard ticking over.

Edinburgh dominated at scrum time

Alex Goode back at 15 scored the first try of the day, a well worked one, with one of his trademark runs, the conversion went wide from Manu Vunipola playing at 10: It was a surprise not to see Alex Lozowski step up to take the conversion.

Saracens are starting to build up quite an injury list and worryingly Billy Vunipola left the field after an awkward looking intervention that seemed to twist his knee as a couple of Edinburgh players got involved in a tackle/ruck. Jackson Wray was therefore on after just 20 minutes.

A couple of minutes later Kapeli Pifileti seemed to barge an Edinburgh player in mid-field, he fell to the floor and the referee stopped play pretty immediately. There was another.very worrying stoppage while the medics got Pifileti ready to lave the pitch on a stretcher. That was 2 members of the Vunipola family out of the game (Pifileti is a cousin). HIs father played for both Tonga and Samoa and he’s a USA international,. having started his rugby life at the Saracens Academy. Happily he’s since tweeted that he’s ok, phew!

The try of the game came for Edinburgh when Charlie Savala, starting at 10 for the injured Blair Kinghorn, kicked a delightful cross field ball, Alex Lewington was too far in to take the ball and it landed in the arms of Ramiro Moyano (another Argentinian) he ran in for Edinburgh’s first try. That stretched their lead as Bofelli had added his second penalty earlier.

Saracens struck back quickly through their forwards, they drove from a line out and the ball went out to the ever improving Andy Christie, he seemed to grow an Inspector Gadget arm to reach through 2 defenders to score. Vunipola’s conversion was good this time as was a penalty just before half time. The teams went in with Edinburgh ahead by a single point.

The second half was a key look at how Saracens miss their captain in a tight game, their game management was poor to say the least, there is a famous saying, attributed to Albert Einstein – “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results” I lost count of how many times Saracens put up a kick, too far, too high, only to see the mark taken by Edinburgh. The frustration in the crowd was palpable. The ability to kick to touch seemed to have gone missing!

Edinburgh had dominated in the scrum, with the wily Andre Nel showing all of his many skills, Saracens lost Eroni Mawi to a yellow card with 64 minutes on the clock and 2 minutes later Nel capped a great afternoon with a try. That put the visitors ahead by 3. A late penalty for Saracens saw them kick to touch, with a repeat moments later. In the dying moments of the game it looked like NIck Tompkins had scored as he rumbled over with the forwards. Again without the benefit of ref link it was hard to know why the try was disallowed and none of the reports I’ve read tell me why, but I believe Tompkins was in the wrong position, therefore obstructing the defenders.

Edinburgh deserved this win, they too lost a couple of players to injury during the game, with both Hamish Watson and Jamie Lang leaving during the first half. The headlines in Scotland are rightly proud of their effort – with the Sunday Times applauding “A famous win over three-time European Champions Saracens”

Saracens fans are having to accept that their club are to a great degree in a rebuilding phase while remaining to be a big scalp for their opposition. Hopefully lessons will have been learnt before they had to Pau for round 2 of this competition.

Looking at the wider picture for the European games this weekend it was a mixed bag for the Premiership teams in what could be a last hurrah with the salary cap reducing to £5m next season. A quick look at some of the results involving Prem teams.

European Champions Cup

  • Northampton 14 Racing 92 45
  • Leinster 45 Bath 20
  • Exeter 42 Montpellier 6
  • Bordeaux Begles 13 Leicester 16
  • Ospreys 12 Sale 21
  • Wasps 14 Munster 35
  • Castres 18 Harlequins 20

European Challenge Cup

  • Newcastle 31 Worcester 26
  • Lyon 19 Gloucester 13
  • Saracens 18 Edinburgh 21
  • Pau 17 London Irish 33

Some impressive results, especially against the French teams, this Saracens fan always supports the other Premiership teams in Europe. Harlequins beat Castres who hadn’t lost at home in this calendar year, Exeter scored 6 tries against Montpellier, last years Challenge Cup winners, Leicester remain unbeaten this season after a good away win and London Irish – the draw kings – secured a good away win. We move into week 2 of this years European competitions with some teams on a high and some, Saracens included with improvements to be made.

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