Edinburgh coach Mike Blair explains decision to settle for Heineken Champions Cup last-16 away tie at Leicester
Edinburgh head coach Mike Blair had no regrets about the late call he made to kick the ball dead after 80 minutes and take a 20-14 victory at home to Saracens – even though it meant settling for a Heineken Champions Cup last-16 away tie at Leicester.
The Scottish side were heading for a home match in the next round until a late try from flanker Ben Earl secured Saracens a losing bonus point at a sold-out DAM Health Stadium. That pushed them ahead of Edinburgh into fourth place in Pool A on tries scored, handing them a home game with Ospreys.Even though Blair’s team needed to score again in order to secure a bonus point and a home draw in the last 16, replacement scrum-half Henry Pyrgos kicked the ball dead as soon as the clock had ticked past the 80-minute mark. Blair said he had wanted his team to kick the ball dead after the 80 minutes was up to settle for a six-point win.
“We wanted them to kick it off,” he insisted. “We made that call. You don't always get these things right, but our view was that we had Sam Skinner in the sin-bin, we were playing into a stiff breeze and we had no momentum in our attack.
"We felt Saracens had the momentum in the last 10 minutes. So, the decision was that we had won three of our four Champions Cup games and beating Saracens, who had only lost one of their last 16 games, would give us a boost.”
We felt the odds were stacked against us – so we cashed in. We were aware of the situation
He added: “We would have loved a home game, but we felt the odds were stacked against us – so we cashed in. We were aware of the situation, and we are comfortable taking the win. Saracens were going really hard at us in the breakdown and I just felt the odds were stacked against us. I know there will be people saying why did we not keep playing and make Saracens not get a bonus point. But we were aware of the different permutations.”
He added: “That was a proper Test match-intensity game. This Saracens side were really physical; they were really gunning for it so to get the win was excellent. There were a couple of times we could have shifted the ball around the 22 but I was pleased with the points we came out with.
“Luke Crosbie has really stepped up after the autumn internationals. I think he has been outstanding since then. The players have refocused their minds and worked out what is important to them, individually and as a team.”
Dave Cherry and Pierre Schoeman crossed for Edinburgh while Blair Kinghorn added two penalties and the same amount of conversions, with Alex Goode kicking three penalties for Saracens before Earl's late effort.
Edinburgh raced into a third-minute lead when they kicked a penalty to the corner, then battled through four phases on Saracens' line before hooker Cherry picked up from the base of a ruck and muscled over. Kinghorn added the conversion, and then almost immediately slotted a penalty from directly in front of the posts when Jamie George was called for a high challenge on Schoeman.
Edinburgh fail to make two-man advantage count
Saracens bounced back with Goode kicking the points from a scrum penalty, but Edinburgh were soon back on top - and they were helped by the visitors losing two players to the sin-bin inside three minutes. England hooker George and Italy prop Marco Riccioni were both yellow carded for failing to lower their body height in the tackle and causing head-on-head collisions. Riccioni concussed himself and did not return after his spell on the sidelines.
Edinburgh failed to make their two-man advantage count on the scoreboard, with Jamie Ritchie passing up a golden opportunity when he lost the ball in contact as he dived under the posts. Once back to full strength, Saracens narrowed the gap with a second Goode penalty following another collapsed scrum. That left Edinburgh just four points ahead at the break, which was remarkable given that they had dominated the first half with 71 per cent possession.
The home side edged further ahead at the start of the second half with a Kinghorn penalty, but that was promptly cancelled out by a successful shot at goal from Goode. The game stretched away from Saracens when Maro Itoje became 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 Schoeman powered over from the line-out maul, with Kinghorn adding the conversion. As you would expect, Saracens fought right to the end, and Edinburgh lost Sam Skinner to the sin-bin for collapsing a maul near his own line.
The hosts managed to hold out for a few more minutes, but eventually cracked when a long passage of play from Saracens eventually opened up a gap on the left for Billy Vunipola to send Earl over, with Goode unable to add the conversion.
Saracens boss unhappy with passive defence
Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall said: “We started the game really poorly - passive and lost. Strangely enough, when we were down to 13 men, we showed what we should have been like with 15 men – that was really good.
"Our fight and our effort was unbelievable when down to 13. If you come away from home and give away 19 penalties then you're not going to win many matches. I'm not sure why we were as passive defensively as we were because it's not like us.”
How the teams lined up
Edinburgh: Immelman, Blain, Bennett, Lang, Kinghorn, Savala, Vellacott; Schoeman, Cherry, Nel, Skinner, Gilchrist, Ritchie, Crosbie, Mata. Replacements: McBurney, Venter, Atalifo, Hodgson, Haining, Pyrgos, Hutchison, Goosen.
Saracens: Daly, Malins, Lozowski, Tompkins, Maitland, Goode, van Zyl; Hislop, George, Riccioni, Itoje, Tizard, Christie, Earl, B Vunipola. Replacements: Pifeleti, Mawi, Judge, Isiekwe, Dan, Davies, Vunipola, Lewington.
Heineken Champions Cup: Edinburgh v Saracens
Scoring: Edinburgh try: Cherry, Schoeman. Con: Kinghorn 2. Pens: Kinghorn 2. Saracens try: Earl. Pens: Goode 3