Saracens v Edinburgh: visitors fall just short in seesaw battle

Losing bonus the only reward for Mike Blair's team at end of keenly contested Champions Cup match

Saracens v Edinburgh
Damien Hoyland in action for Edinburgh against Saracens. Image: © Craig Watson.

Saracens 30
Edinburgh 26

STUART BATHGATE @ The StoneX Stadium

EDINBURGH came desperately close to following up last year’s Challenge Cup win over Saracens with another famous victory in the Champions Cup, but in the end they came up just short. They were never behind in the first half, and kept fighting back in the second even when the momentum appeared to be against them, yet only took a losing bonus point home from this opening Pool A clash.

An excellent kicking display by Emiliano Boffelli – who converted both his team’s tries and added four penalties – was a major reason why the visitors stayed in contention for so long. But they contributed a lot in open play too, and although their line-out malfunctioned at times and their scrum was under pressure for much of a bitterly cold afternoon in north London, they kept up the fight right to the death.

“I’m really, really proud of the performance today,” Edinburgh head coach Mike Blair said. “So much of what we did was good. It’s easy to look at a couple of things that didn’t go right – we did hand the momentum to Saracens, I think, in that second half – but I want to focus on what we did well.

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“Despite the issues we had with a couple of lineouts, despite two yellow cards, we were right in that game against a team that will go well in this tournament and who are nine from nine in their domestic league. 

“A point at Saracens isn’t too bad an outcome,” Blair said. “Obviously we wanted to win, but we’ve got a point now. Someone told me that last year a win and a draw from the four [pool] games got them through to the last 16.

“I’m really, really proud of lots of stuff, but there’s also that little itch in me. We could have done a little bit more, probably more from a smarts point of view than an effort one.

“Now we’ve got Castres at home. They’re a big, physical team, it’s a six-day turnaround for us and there is a really big motivation for us to get a win at the DAM Health.”

After withstanding some early pressure, Edinburgh opened the scoring after seven minutes when Luan de Bruin crossed from close range. Saracens began to put their game together after that, and got off the mark when Owen Farrell’s kick found Elliot Daly on the right wing, and the full-back shrugged off Duhan van der Merwe to score on the corner. 

Owen Farrell equalised with the conversion, but five minutes later was off target with a long-range penalty attempt. Boffelli then showed the stand-off how it was done, scoring from just inside the Saracens half, and soon added another penalty from a couple of metres further in to put Edinburgh six points in front. 

Saracens hit back just before the break, scoring all too simply through a lineout drive, finished off by Ben Earl. Farrell’s conversion attempt hit a post, before Boffelli had the last word in the half with a third penalty that gave his side a four-point lead.

The home team came out fighting, and took the lead after 45 minutes in all-too-simple fashion when a clever kick through by Daly was gathered for an unconverted try by Alex Lewington. But the visitors fought back, and Boffelli put them back in front with a fourth successful penalty. Then Farrell rediscovered his kicking boots, putting his team back in the lead with another long-range penalty, and soon afterwards adding another three points to put his team four up.

Then an interception by Damian Hoyland just inside his own half seemed sure to end in a score in the right corner. But the defence got back to stop him just short of the line – and when play switched to the left, they held up James Lang too.

Minutes later a Stuart McInally throw was snaffled by the home pack, and after the initial drive was held up, Tom Wolstencroft finished off. Farrell converted, and McInally was yellow-carded into the bargain for a team offence.

Edinburgh were still not finished: Blair Kinghorn raced through a gap in midfield to put Wes Goosen through for a try, Boffelli converted, and the gap was down to four points.

Then Nel was sent to the bin for a dangerous tackle on Callum Hunter-Hill, leaving Edinburgh down to 13 men for two of the last three minutes. They were able to mount one last attack all the same, but it fizzled out.


Teams –

Saracens: E Daly; A Lewington, A Lozowski (A Goode 62), N Tompkins, S Maitland; O Farrell (captain), I van Zyl (A Davies 72); M Vunipola (E Mawi 65), J George (T Woolstencroft 65), M Riccioni (A Clarey 72), M Itoje, H Tizard (C Hunter-Hill 65), T McFarland (A Christie 54), B Earl, W Vunipola (J Wray 72). 

Edinburgh: E Boffelli; W Goosen, M Bennett (D Hoyland 37), J Lang, D van der Merwe; B Kinghorn, B  Vellacott (C Shiel 62); P Schoeman (B Venter 59), S McInally, L de Bruin (W Nel 33), J Hodgson (M Sykes 47), G Gilchrist, J Ritchie (captain), L Crosbie (B Muncaster 72), V Mata.

Referee: N Amashukeli (Georgia).



Saracens: Tries: Daly, Earl, Lewington, Wolstencroft. Cons: Farrell 2. Pens: Farrell 2.

Edinburgh: Tries: De Bruin, Goosen. Cons: Boffelli 2. Pens: Boffelli 4.


Yellow cards –

Edinburgh: McInally (69 mins), Nel (77mins)

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About Stuart Bathgate 1415 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.


  1. McInally is usually pretty sound. Line out mess like those last 2 are not down to the throw, both very clearly the lineout call was mucked up. Could be the caller, the prop who xfers the callm, or the thrower

    • Yes .. line out very disappointing, but the last one given as squint I don’t think was, I thought the rule was it had to be beyond the centre of the lifting player … and that one clearly was not.

    • The last one was a shambles and not managed by the ref. No space and Itoje was virtually standing on the Edinburgh side. Having said that, why is the line out such an issue?

  2. It’s a shame Edinburgh didn’t beat a club built on years of systematic cheating (I know there is no salary cap in this competition but how do you think the Cheats side was assembled) but at least they were the side who walked off the pitch with their integrity intact.

  3. Another refereeing/rules point. I can’t see how Ben Earls try is allowed. He wasn’t bound when the ball was passed to him, and then goes into the maul. Glasgow had a try disallowed for something similar last week.

  4. Agree Mouse, I’m afraid Hoyland doesn’t have the legs to be a serious winger? Needs to do some serious stamina work and pound the road miles, he should never have been caught. That said we totally butchered what should have been a walk in thereafter, with Saracens defence in disarray. That was the game right their 🤷‍♂️

    • I was surprised at Hoylands lack of pace, I thought he’d shown up well in previous games … carrying an injury?

    • Why is Hoyland in team if he’s that slow ?

      Agree with Mouse ‘s comment .

      Not good enough for a winger to be caught having the whole field in front of him .
      The Props looked faster

    • Also surprised at Hoylands lack of pace but don’t forget he had Charlie Shiel in support who was easily keeping up with him and he should have used him to run in the try but he failed to use him.

  5. Good news – a seriously competitive game and a spirited effort at upsetting the pundits. Bad news – too many basic errors that you might legitimately describe as ‘coach killers’. Blair must have felt utterly frustrated at times that so much good work was undone by rank carelessness. In the plus column, Crosbie must surely start at seven against England. On the minus side, it appears there isn’t man in Scotland on either franchise capable of throwing in straight to the line (except Ritchie). Another big minus today was VDM, who remains a liability in defence – both in the tackle and under the high ball. He will targeted mercilessly at Twickenham.

  6. Another frustrating watch but for different reasons from last week. Edinburgh played well in large parts of this game and really should have won it. It was remarkable how they stayed in the game considering their set piece woes. The defence and breakdown work were largely superb with Crosbie outstanding and McInally good in the loose.If only we could sort our set piece – there were at least 3 scrum penalties against us, 3 squint line out throws and one overthrow from McInally that led directly to a Sarries try. We also butchered a couple of kick off receipts. Thats a lot of ball gifted back to the opposition.which is hard to live with yet we were in the game till the very end. Tight head remains a problem with Nel brought on before half time.

    The play that cost us the win was when both Hoyland and Laing failed to pass to support players after Hoylands interception. How we failed to score was beyond belief. If wed scored then I think we would have won. So well played to Edinburgh if only they could cut out a few mistakes they could start to win these tight games.

  7. Good grief … well what a game, and I was expecting much worse.

    We should have won that .. a few bad errors …. but surely the worst refereeing performance of the season. I’d like to see a SA coaches analysis of that one.

    However at least a respectable performance following a few bad weeks.

  8. OK they lost but Edinburgh were great, they should have won. What can you say to the McInally miss throw , cost the game , along with the Lang I’ll not pass to the 2 guys outside me non try. Still they gave Saracen’s the toughest game they have had all year.

    Small aside watch the Zebre game on YouTube they scored the try of the round in my opinion.

  9. Brutal from Lang to go himself instead of passing. That ineptitude was only outdone by the ref at the scrum. Vunipola hinged almost every scrum yet Edinburgh were penalised. Ignored some blatant cheeting in rucks in second half too. Why is it Scottish hookers are so poor at throwing to lineout? It’s a repeatable skill. Really was one that got away today, real shame.

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