Vincent Koch and Michael Rhodes starred to help Saracens overpower Leinster in a 25-17 victory and progress to the Champions Cup semi-finals.
Rhodes – who was named man of the match – was one of three South Africans in Saracens’ starting lineup, as the defending champions blew title challengers Leinster out of the water in the first half, before producing a strong defensive effort in the second period.
Springbok tighthead prop Vincent Koch put in a massive shift in both the scrums and open play, while Brad Barritt returned to the starting team to lead his side.
In total, Koch played 79 minutes and completed all 18 of his tackle attempts, while he worked with England duo Jamie George and Mako Vunipola to overwhelm the Leinster scrum.
Leinster came into the match heavily favoured to win following their successful PRO14 title defence last weekend, while Saracens were missing star flyhalf Owen Farrell through his five-week ban.
However, in a thrilling encounter Saracens simply overpowered their opponents at the set piece, where Koch and Rhodes were major players, and ruthlessly win penalty after penalty. Alex Goode and Elliot Daly combined provided a more-than-capable stand-in for Farrell as they slotted five first-half penalties between them, while Goode scored Saracens’ only try of the match to take them into a 22-3 half-time lead.
In the second half Leinster fought their way back into the contest as they started to see more of the ball and bring their carriers into play to give them some momentum. It took just eight minutes for tighthead prop Andrew Porter to power over, before an excellently worked move had Jordan Larmour score and give the home side hope of an inspiring comeback.
With a five-point lead to defend in the final 18 minutes, Sarries defenders flew into tackles and forced Leinster to play out of their own territory. A 79th-minute penalty from Goode gave them enough of a buffer to see out the match.
In Saturday’s second semi-final, which featured a French derby, Racing 92 claimed a 36-27 victory over Clermont.
On Sunday, Cheslin Kolbe will be in action as Toulouse take on an Ulster side that will be without Springbok No 8 Marcell Coetzee, while Premiership leaders Exeter Chiefs, with flank Jacques Vermeulen in their starting lineup, will be looking to reach the European semi-finals for the first time when they face off against the Northampton Saints.
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