Heineken Breakdown: Edinburgh 0 – 45 Saracens

On the opening weekend of the Heineken Cup Edinburgh wanted to show they were not freak semi-finalist the year before. Instead, Saracens slew the stolid capital side.

Losing 0-45 is not just humiliating. It also perpetuates the myth that English rugby is that much stronger than elsewhere. Comments can come in from Celtic fans about South African money and squad size, but the real reasons Edinburgh were dealt with like insolent ants is because of their mental lethargy and on-pitch tactics.

Defence:

The aforementioned lethargy is one of thought. Edinburgh’s endeavour was never in question, but their rudderless chasing of attackers left them exposed. They were passive enough to accept the referees whistle or uncover a hole for Sarries’ back three.

They picked as many runners as they could, but the pass in behind a dummy 12 often created confusion. The outside man would have to add that extra step to his defensive run while the inside man looked a static target.

An example of this was in the 13th minute. A disharmonious defence was loosely knit together. As defenders drifted late to cover the holes, they were forced to come forward early and concede a penalty. Simply tapping and passing past this concertinaed opposition, Joel Tomkins had a stroll round the outside.

With the second try, in the second half, this problem manifested itself in a different way.

The issue becomes apparent when Saracens’ defence is compared with Edinburgh’s. Saracens are organised and ruthless with each other. They come up as one line and they do so, without fail, on either side of the ruck. Edinburgh, on the other hand, consistently shot one player up league-style.

It is a case of synergy trumping individualism and unregulated aggression. So when Owen Farrell scored it was because Matt Scott raced out of the line and Nick De Luca and Dougie Fife were left selling themselves to pick the blindside runners. A neat pass cut them out and they could only chase.

Chris Ashton was allowed a soft score after the pack damaged themselves trying to hold out Saracens. Charlie Hodgson was able to drift and then flick an inside pass to the winger, who had collapsing and retreating inside men to walk past (as shown in the image above). Then, when De Luca shot again, Alex Goode had enough of a hole to hurtle through for a score.

Attack:

Edinburgh did not score a single point.

Much of this comes down to the way they took the ball into contact and the manner of their rucking. Too often Saracens were allowed attempts at NFL-style ‘strafes’. They got their hands around the carrier’s cargo and tried to rip. If this did not work they had a bite at a ball-and-all tackle. Then Edinburgh would allow Saracens to remain there for a chance of a penalty or to slow play.

A ruthless Edinburgh team would have shot past the ball, but the more pertinent issue is that last season’s Edinburgh would not have been in that position to begin with.

Back then the side with the radioactive black and red shirt were untouched. They shimmied past tacklers and played at a pace that frightened defenders.

On Saturday players like Ross Rennie and Matt Scott were left acting as groundhogs. They had their duties.

Grant Gilchrist and Sean Cox did some carrying alongside Ross Ford and David Denton, while Rennie and Scott were secondary options. So instead of trying to play around the English bludgeon the home side were often attempting the same game.

This meant that the offload was almost eradicated and without edges or front foot ball the passes became lateral, predictable issues. Then these passes were dropped and the exit strategy was brought into play more than it should have been.

With play like this and slow ball forced on Edinburgh, Saracens impressive drift defence could easily read plays.

Set piece:

How often will this team be talked about in terms of their sloppiness at lineout time? It goes beyond technical breakdown: if there is movement, a pause, a short step, a lift, and a throw an inch off that, the lineout will fail.

The scrum came and went, with John Yapp inconsistent. When it was good it was very good. However, if the scrum is good when it wants and the kick-offs seemingly OK, why is the lineout so poor?

Conclusion:

Munster will be as stodgy next Sunday. Edinburgh must therefore install players like Netani Talei and give Rennie a new mission statement. The attack must be unpredictable and the passing must be crisp. In defence the shooting defender must be used in times where Edinburgh are numbers up, and even then the emphasis must be on having two lines on either side of the ruck who are willing to play disciplined, boring, winning defence.

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Dundonian Alan has played rugby all over the world for various teams including Dundee High School, Heriot's and the Scottish Club International. Now writing from London he covers all issues international and unreported.

6 comments on “Heineken Breakdown: Edinburgh 0 – 45 Saracens

  1. Gatto Nero on

    Very good article. Aside from the tactics, the complete lack of team spirit and unity was perhaps for me the most disappointing.

  2. DC on

    So, if you saw all these failing tactics, why didn’t Bradley & Co???? Why couldn’t they – or indeed the players themselves – change it? Whatever happened to heads up rugby? I really think Edinburgh’s HC campaign bit the dust today as I can’t see them winning away at least at Sarries and Munster and maybe even Racing Metro! Go on, surprise me, Edinburgh!

  3. Rudderchumb on

    Great article Alan. I hope some of the Edinburgh players read this. A hard hard lesson for the Edinburgh squad yesterday. Let’s hope they have the strength and character to pick themselves up again, learn and improve on this…fast! Come on Edinburgh, we know you are better than that. Show us why nearly 40,000 turned up to see you win last year!

  4. Matto on

    Very good article. An absolute torrid spectacle to witness. Last season’s achievements and the subsequent financial injection mean that us fans have a right to expect more when we travel (long distances in my case) and pay to see the boys perform. Boys against men on Saturday, with a team we should at least be competitive with and should be able to beat at home, rather than the systematic destruction on show. Really disappointing and embarrassing for all those that support Scottish rugby. There is a lot of talk, but not a lot of trousers in the Edinburgh camp just now. I REALLY hope to see some steel and structure come into this squad in the very near future.

  5. Rudderchumb on

    Poor match day performance aside, just over 6,500 tickets sold for this match is an unacceptable statistic for the long term of Edinburgh rugby. We were playing against a top English club in the very best Northern Hemisphere rugby club tournament. Questions must be asked of the SRU and Edinburgh Rugby’s marketing department for such poor attendances at such a fantastic venue and competition.

    Should they try free stadium entry to RaboDirect Pro12 games? Can they do more with Edinburgh City Council to engage with our youth, inspiring a more active and healthy Scottish generation despite the tight budgets? Can we re-arrange our amateur club and school fixtures to the midweek? Just a few of the many questions being asked. I really fear for the future of professional rugby in Scotland. Commercially radical improvements are required here no doubt about it.

    Perhaps the professionals responsible could comment, or do they not read these blogs?

  6. Chilliblonde on

    Glad I didn’t get to see the game now, good review. Bradley won’t be here by the end of the season. Perhaps Lineen will step in Rob Andrew style to hold the fort. #tryingnottobeatroll

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