Edinburgh 20 Saracens 14
England sweated through a potential front-row crisis on Sunday night with question marks over the availability of both Mako Vunipoli and Jamie George, with the Six Nations left with less than two weeks left.
George was penalized for a head-to-head matchup with Edinburgh’s Luke Crosbie in the defeat of the Saracens Champions Cup in the Scottish capital – their only defeat in the tournament so far. The hooker, named alongside Steve Borthwick’s Vunipoli for England last week, may still be cited however as the tackle appeared to be in the gray area between a yellow and red card.
While Vunipola withdrew during the warm-up due to a sore foot, George was forced to retire for evaluation of a head injury after colliding hard with Crosbie. Open from Edinburgh, who was wonderfully diligent in the victory, he sent the Saracen prostitute to the artificial turf with a mighty bang. George looked like he was struggling to get back on his feet, but he came back after the yellow card expired, having gone through the HIA. The Saracens’ captain did not appear for the second half due to a concussion, leaving both the Saracens and the independent match doctor with questions to be answered.
Two minutes after George’s indiscretion, Marco Riccioni was also shown a yellow card for an almost identical tackle at Edinburgh Castle by Grant Gilchrist. Saracen’s strained head did not return – either failed HIA or was prevented by an independent match doctor. All this comes just three days after the Rugby Football Association banned all below-the-belt tackles in community rugby from next season – to a fierce backlash from the sport’s grassroots roots.
Equally troubling for Borthwick, who had less than two weeks to go before kick-off in the Six Nations match against Scotland at Twickenham, was how the Premiership leaders relocated to Edinburgh in miniature Calcutta. Eight of Gregor Townsend’s players were included in Mike Blair’s matchday squad against six Englishmen from Borthwick overshadowed by Murrayfield. An extra point conceded Saracens secured a home draw in the round of 16 – against Ospreys – while Edinburgh’s brilliant performance is rewarded with a trip to Welford Road to face Leicester.
Saracens could have lost by just six points, but it was a performance well short of their Premiership and European bests. Overwhelmed, muscled and thoughtful, the visitors never had a realistic chance of winning until Ben Earl’s late try gave them undeserved hope. It was a day off for an otherwise pristine site.
It had all the makings of a match on the better outskirts of test rugby. Did he deserve such respect? A start certainly will, with an intensity and intention – mostly from the hosts – that will come close to anything that shows up in less than two weeks.
Edinburgh took the lead early on, prostitute Dave Cherry’s fleet of thoughts followed the cannonball lead of Viliame Mata and Jamie Ritchie. Pierre Schoeman – to the delight of the rowdy, sold-out crowd – also had his share of the madness. At times, Alex Goode and Nick Tompkins in Saracens’ midfield just couldn’t stand the heat.
After Cherry’s close-range dot, Blair Kinghorn extended the hosts’ lead with Ben Earl – otherwise excellent in some of the brighter news for Borthwick – punished for not backing down.
With the Saracens down to 13, Edinburgh squandered two great opportunities to solidify their lead. First, Ritchie crossed the goal line after breaking through Tompkins before a Christian Judge spin saved the Saracens. Goode kept in touch with the visitors with three penalties – two from the scrum and one from Earl – before Kinghorn added another for Edinburgh and Tompkins didn’t pull away.
Maro Itoje became the third Saracen to spend 10 minutes on the pitch – convicted for a deliberate tackle – and Edinburgh learned from the first half. No opportunity was wasted and Schoeman led the Edinburgh maul beautifully, scoring and giving the hosts the spotlight.
Ludovic Cayre is not done with the yellow card yet. The French referee sent Sam Skinner to the basket for breaking a budding Saracen maul, and moments later Earl came off the sideline to score the visitors’ first goal – after 75 minutes – thanks to a brilliant clearance from substitute Eroni Mawi. But it would not be enough to leave the Saracens – and England – a bit to think about.
Scoring Sequence: 5-0 Cherry try, 7-0 Kinghorn con, 10-0 Kinghorn pen, 10-3 Goode pen, 10-6 Goode pen, 13-6 Kinghorn pen, 13-9 Goode pen 18-9 Schoeman try, 20-9 Kinghorn con, 20-14 Earl try it.
Edinburgh: H Immelman; J Blain (W Goosen 56), M Bennett, J Lang, B Kinghorn; C Savala, B Vellacott (H Pyrgos 51); P Schoeman, D Cherry (A McBurney 75), WP Nel, S Skinner, G Gilchrist (Co-Capt), J Ritchie (Co-Cap) (N Haining 55), L Crosbie, V Mata.
Unused substitutes: B Venter, L Atalifo, J Hodgson, C Hutchison.
Yellow card:S Skinner (71).
Saracens: E Daly (A Lewington 46); M Malins (C Judge 29, Malins 32), A Lozowski, N Tompkins, S Maitland; A. Goode, and Van Zyl (A. Davies 56); R Hislop (E Mawi 59), J George (Captain) (K Pifeleti 41), M Riccioni, M Itoje, H Tizard (N Isiekwe 56), A Christie (K Pifeleti 29, Christie 34, T Dan 70), B Earl , BVunipol.
Unused substitutes: Manu Vunipol.
Yellow cards: J George (22), M Riccioni (24), Mitoje (59).
Judge: L.Cayre (France).