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.
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.
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.
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?
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.