Hodgson pulls strings as Saracens let rip
Edinburgh 0 Saracens 45: Edinburgh's head coach admits his side could not have played worse
After the near-famine, the veritable feast. Having lived on a subsistence diet of a solitary try in their last four domestic fixtures, Saracens took the opportunity to gorge themselves on the continental trail yesterday. There were five tries to savour and close to a half century of points in all as the 2011 English champions burst out of their Premiership straitjacket with a vengeance in their opening pool match in the Heineken Cup.
By the end, Chris Ashton and Co were cutting such mesmerising attacking lines, poor Edinburgh must have felt they had been shunted into a fifth dimension by the supposed mono machine of a team from down south. To be fair, though, the home side did much to bamboozle themselves, as their head coach Michael Bradley was not slow to acknowledge.
"I don't think we could have potentially played any worse," the former Ireland scrum-half said. "All aspects of our game just didn't seem to function. We couldn't pass the ball from A to B."
In last season's competition, Murrayfield was a fortress for Bradley's side. They put mighty Toulouse to the sword here in the quarter-finals before falling to Ulster in a Dublin semi-final. Five months on, they suffered a record margin of defeat in a home Heineken Cup tie, eclipsing the 47-8 loss inflicted by Northampton in December 1999.
Saracens already had a bonus point in the bag before Charlie Hodgson completed a trademark charge-down score in the 76th minute. The former England outside-half added the conversion, taking his personal points tally to 25. "I thought it was a job really well done," Mark McCall, Sarries' director of rugby, said.
"We want to score tries and we want to be positive. Today we just converted more opportunities than we normally do. Against a good team, like Edinburgh, you've got to build pressure and I thought Steve Borthwick was magnificent today. He really got into their line-out, and when you don't have a base to play from it's very difficult."
Twice in the opening three minutes Edinburgh self-dismantled attacking platforms with wild passes that failed to find the man on the outside – their Dutch-born wing Tim Visser and captain-cum-stand-off Greig Laidlaw committing the cardinal errors that only encouraged Saracens to venture out of their defensive shell.
It was not long before Sarries were on the front foot, with Hodgson pulling the strings. There was an air of inevitability about their breakthrough score, as Edinburgh scrambled to snuff out the danger in a relentless attack that culminated in Hodgson shipping the ball out right to Brad Barritt, whose delightful pass out of the back of the right hand was an open invitation for his centre partner Joel Tomkins to crash over the try line.
Hodgson added the extras and followed up with three penalties as Saracens exercised their familiar stranglehold on proceedings. They were helped by a series of basic errors on the part of the home side – including one of a schoolboy variety by Tom Brown, the young full back stepping outside the 22m line before kicking to touch.
Edinburgh, 16-0 down at the interval, were also unable to make the most of the gift thrown to them when Richie Rees snaffled an attacking pass by Hodgson. The Welsh scrum-half hared some 70 yards towards the right corner but was caught by a hooker. Schalk Britz was yellow carded for holding on to Rees in the tackle but Edinburgh failed to exploit their numerical advantage. Indeed, a fourth Hodgson penalty stretched Saracens' lead to 19-0 before they moved into overdrive when restored to their full complement.
Their second try came on the hour, from an attacking scrum on the right. Owen Farrell had been on the field for all of 17 seconds, as a replacement for Tomkins, when he took a feed from full-back Alex Goode and swapped passes with Ashton on the inside before touching down in the corner. Ashton was in razor-sharp form. The England wing then sliced through Edinburgh's defensive line with an angled midfield run, taking a flat feed off Hodgson. In the 68th minute Ashton wrought further havoc, popping into the line on the left to give Goode just enough space to squeeze over for the bonus point score in the corner. Saracens were simply too good for an Edinburgh side who played more like the struggling Rabo Pro 12 team beaten at home by Treviso last weekend than the dynamic bunch that blazed a glorious trail into the last four of last season's competition.
The final agony came four minutes from time, when Hodgson charged down an attempted clearance from stand-off Harry Leonard before adding the extras for his second quarter- century tally in seven days.
Edinburgh T Brown; L Jones, N De Luca, M Scott, T Visser (D Fife, h-t); G Laidlaw (capt, H Leonard, h-t), R Rees (C Leck, 69); J Yapp (R Hislop, 69), R Ford (A Titterell, 61), W Nel (G Cross, 61), G Gilchrist, S Cox (R McAlpine, 77), D Denton (N Talei, 61), R Rennie, S McInally.
Saracens A Goode; C Ashton, J Tomkins (O Farrell, 60), B Barritt, D Strettle (C Wyles, 67); C Hodgson, R Wigglesworth (N De Kock, 51); M Vuinipola (R Gil, 59), S Brits (J Smit, 66), M Stevens (P Du Plessis, 67), S Borthwick (capt), M Botha (G Kruis, 59), K Brown, W Fraser (J Smit, 45-55; A Saul, 56), J Wray.
Referee J Lacey (Ireland).
Tries: Tomkins, Goode, Ashton, Farrell, Hodgson
Cons: Hodgson 4
Pens: Hodgson 4
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