Another freezing cold day saw Saracens involved in their first Champions Cup match since they won the thing in Newcastle on May 11th 2019. The visitors were Edinburgh, the 2 teams played each other in the Challenge Cup last season with Edinburgh on the exact day in fact. Edinburgh won that tight affair by 18 points to 21. Their Argentinian Fullback was a huge factor in that win, Emiliano Boffelli was starting at 15 this time round too. Both teams were choc full of internationals, although Edinburgh were missing Hamish Watson. The number of stars was a sure factor in making this a high quality game of rugby.

The referee was from Georgia and his assistants France, I was very happy to have ref link, there was some interesting listening. We rightly started by paying respect to the much loved Doddie Weir, the applause was plentiful and heartfelt. I had a bit of a moan about the crowd for the Tel Aviv friendly a couple of weeks ago, I don’t know what the crowd was for this one, but there were many empty seats, disappointing for such a good game. One stand was padded out by my nephew and a group of his friends, there to support Edinburgh, it was a bit odd that they were told to sit down when their team scored!

Saracens started at 100pmph as has been their way this season, they ran the ball out of their own half, with a lovely pass from Billy Vunipola to Sean Maitland, he probably took the wrong option, not seeing the speedy Ben Earl free on his left, the ball went right which saw Elliot Daly speed down the pitch, the attack was too no avail as a penalty was given away. Edinburgh cleared their lines with a Ben Vellacott kick, that gave Duhan van der Merwe a chance to ‘introduce’ himself to Alex Lewington, he did so with some force!

The first of what felt like many penalties given against Saracens at the ruck was the result. A neat pass from Vellacott to van Der Merwe saw him involved in another penalty as Saracens failed to roll away. This penalty was rather more costly as Luan de Bruin powered, basically through, Owen Farrell to go over the line for the first try of the game. Bofelli converted to put Edinburgh 7 ahead.

Saracens attacked from the kick off, with Owen Farrell putting in a lovely kick to touch, just missing out on a 50/22, he seemed to be in some difficulty after that kick, but was good to go fairly quickly. Edinburgh looked to be on their way to their second try after Bofelli took a kick from Blair Kinghorn, this was just as the commentator said Edinburgh rarely kick. The catch was sublime from Bofelli, but happily, as a Saracens fan, the ball was won back and Owen Farrell came away with the ball.

The first scrum came from an Edinburgh error as did the first scrum penalty. Elliot Daly put in a big kick giving Saracens great field position. Farrell gets another mention here as he first tipped the ball back having missed his catch, he then later in the Saracens attack put in a kick across the pitch for Elliot Daly, who scored waited for the ball, then ran round van Der Merwe to score. Farrell kicked from close to the side line to add the extras, He very clearly had shaken off that early niggle.

There seemed to be a lot of chat at scrum time, the return fixtures going to be a belter!

I felt that at times both teams disrespected the referee, one such time was as a scrum was awarded for a knock on, I heard, from a Saracens player, ‘there were 3 knock ons, was it the 1st or the 3rd?’ That’s not good and not on , Sir rightly told Farrell to have a word. Play moved on and de Bruin gave away a soft penalty deep in the Edinburgh half, Farrell went for the kick option but kicked it wide of the posts.

The referee blew for a penalty on the next scrum, again going against Edinburgh, he told Jamie Ritchie to ‘have a word’ which he didn’t, but Saracens had good territory again. However they gave away a penalty at the line out, territorial advantage lost! Maro Itoje gave away a penalty for a high tackle, he was lucky not to be pinged for the same offence earlier in the attack. Bofelli put Edinburgh ahead with a mighty kick, from close to the half-way line.

Edinburgh captain Jamie Ritchie probably got on the wrong side of the referee at times

Edinburgh didn’t take the restart and it bounced back nicely into Ivan van Zyl’s hands, seeing Sarecens go on the attack again. a promising attack came to an end as Billy Vunipola passed, forward, into touch. Saracen’s next attack was cut short by a penalty given away by Alex Lozowski as he went off his feet above Farrell on the floor.

The Saracens pitch often catches out the opposition players kicking from hands, Wes Goosen kicked with too much power and the ball went dead over the back line. At that point WP Nel entered the fray, his coach clearly concerned with the scrum situation. A free kick went the way of Nel’s first involvement.

Edinburgh stretched their lead with a second penalty, an easier kick for Bofelli, they had a 6 point lead. Saracens were awarded a penalty plus 10 metres as the referee took offence at some chat from Edinburgh. In a training ground move Ben Earl took the ball after Theo McFarland took the ball in the line out, he tipped it down to Itoje who passed it on to Earl who drove forwards with some help to score, the conversion was missed but Edinburgh’s lead was down to 1. It’s interesting that the commentator also picked up the amount of chart being thrown at the referee, he handled it very well on the whole.

A try made on the training ground for Ben Earl

On the toll of half-time a Bofelli penalty extended the Edinburgh lead to 4, the teams went in with the scores on Saracens 12 Edinburgh 16.

Action photos from the first half

Saracens took the lead 4 minutes into the 2nd half Edinburgh had a line out 3 minutes in and conceded the first of a couple of problems with a wayward throw, Saracens were then awarded a free kick from the scrum. Elliot Daly found the ball in his hands a couple of phases on and kicked the ball through for Alex Lewington who took the ball to get the try. Daly has been on fire for Saracens this season, it’s hard to see how he isn’t picked by the new England coach for the Six Nations. The conversion went wide but Saracens lead by a point. This match wasn’t going to be one won by a big margin.

Saracens conceded a penalty in the breakdown on 51 minutes and that lead swung back to Edinburgh with another Bofelli penalty. Saracens seems to concede a lot of penalties in the first hour of a game and it can seem as a fan that the arm only goes one way; but the final penalty count was 13 conceded by Saracens to Edinburgh’s 12. The Penalty to give Edinburgh the lead came when Hugh Tizzard was basically pinned to the floor by 3 Edinburgh players, there was no way he could get out of the ruck, as the commentary team said, clever by Edinburgh.

Man of the Match Elliot Daly is in fine form this season

The next saw Ben Earl come up with blood all over his face, a penalty awarded against him, possibly stray studs into his eyebrow. He was bandaged up and set off again! That was close to `Edinburgh’s line but they again had a wayward throw! The Hooker Stuart Mcinally had a chat with the referee but the decision was correct. Edinburgh then conceded their 4th penalty in the scrum, they also received a yellow card warning. Farrell nailed this penalty and the pendulum swung again, that narrow point for Saracens.

Edinburgh were denied what should have been a penalty as Itoje went flying into a ruck, Vellacott then conceded a penalty and that yellow card warning was issued again. Farrell’s kick went between the posts and the single point became 4.

Damian Hoyland who’d come on in the first half for an HIA turned substitution showed his dancing feet after Andy Christie had knocked the ball from van Der Merwe’s hand, he’d taken an age to attempt to get the ball away from the Edinburgh line. Hoyland showed some great skills at that end off the pitch. Moments later he took an interception from an Owen Farrell pass, he jinked to towards the line, but didn’t quite get there in the first attempt, an amazing run back by Marco Riccione stopping him. James Lang who had a player outside him went for the line on the opposite side of the pitch only to be held upon by Nick Tompkins and Farrell, atoning for his pass to Hoyland.

Farrell put a couple of good kicks in to take the play back close to the Edinburgh line, the Edinburgh line out went wrong again as McInally threw the ball, no one jumped so it went over the line and straight into the hands of Eroni Mawi, that put Saracens 5 metres from the line. Edinburgh conceded a penalty as Saracens went for the line, Tom Woolstencroft back from injury dived over the line. Cards are often forgotten when a try’s scored, but not this time, to make matter even worse for poor McInally he was sent to the naughty step for 10 minutes. With 68 minutes on the clock Saracens had an 11 point lead.

The build up to Tom Woolstencroft’s try

In spite of being a man down Edinburgh scored next, a try for Wes Goosen after a bit of magic from Kinghorn, Bofelli’s conversion closed the gap to 4. That was it as far as bothering the scoreboard was concerned, but there was more to write about.

WP Nel’s game came to an end with 76 minutes on the clock, it’s never good to see a player taken above the horizontal, Nel was involved in a double tackle on Callum Hunter-Hill, a tip tackle the officials checked it and decided on a yellow card. An experienced player he should have known not to life with his hands between the players legs. He was saved from a red card by the involvement of the other tackler and the fact that Hunter-Hill put his hand down to avoid landing on his head.

Action from the 2nd half

A hard fought win for Saracens the scoreline of Saracens 30 Edinburgh 26 reflected the fact that both possession and territory was 50 %. An unedifying stat for the Saracens coaching team was the 21 missed tackles. I love European Rugby weekends and this match was a cracker, the 2nd leg games usually surpass the 1st. Roll on January and a trip to Edinburgh!

A small aside, my neighbours and I spotted this Edinburgh support member of staff at the same time, none of us could believe he spent the whole game in a T-Shirt and shorts, it was literally freezing, I did notice him put a hoodie on at the end of the game, but, my goodness!

Hard man or Crazy man?!?!?

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