Saracens returned to Europe’s top table after a two-year absence with a bonus points victory, but this was anything but routine.
For much of the game they were subdued by a more dynamic Edinburgh side who won the collapse battle. It was not a classic, but the three-time champion will care little about the optics. This was the victory they sought.
“Edinburgh are a great team,” said Owen Farrell. “They really challenged us, especially around the breakdown. I know we just got back together and we don’t want to take a bonus points win for granted, certainly not, but we have a long way to go after that performance.”
A five-minute try from prop Luan de Bruin, who bulldozed past Farrell at close range, gave Edinburgh the lead. Elliot Daly answered shortly after when he brushed off a weak tackle from Duhan van der Merwe. Ben Earl also scored from a well-structured maul, but 11 points from Emiliano Boffelli’s boot, as well as two missed punts from Farrell, meant the Saracens trailed 12-16 at half time.
Edinburgh came to spoil the home crowd’s welcome party. Their loose forwards – led by Scotland captain Jamie Ritchie – isolated the Saracens ball carriers and routinely stole the ball on the ground. The men in black chose a strategy that kept bodies available along the rim, but whenever support was slow to arrive, they swarmed in orange.
Saracens haven’t played a competitive game in over a month – a result of the economic pitfalls at Wasps and Worcester – and it showed. Apart from the scrum, which won four penalties, the trademark efficiency was not quite there.
Saracens entered the second period with renewed vigor. Five minutes after the restart, Daly picked up a flat pass and poked a grubber behind the striker’s defence. Alex Lewington collected and scored although Farrell missed the conversion, his third failed shot on target meaning seven points coughed up by the captain.
Boffelli had no such problems and threw another penalty kick to push his team back to the front. The status quo lasted just six minutes when Farrell finally found his range and registered a penalty meaning the lead had changed hands four times before the hour mark.
It wouldn’t shift again, although it should have when Damien Hoyland found a way not to score after picking a Farrell ski pass interception. It was a costly mistake. Tom Woolstencroft buried himself under a tackle to bag the bonus point with 11 minutes left.
Two yellow cards crippled Edinburgh’s fight back, but they threatened to disrupt the story as Wes Goosen found space on the left to score. But the Saracens persisted. Their 10th win in as many games this season is proof that some habits are hard.