Saracens scored 20 unanswered points to beat Leinster 20-10 in the final of the European Champions Cup in Newcastle on Saturday. DYLAN JACK reports.
It gave Saracens their third title in four seasons, unseating Leinster in a thrilling final which more than lived up to the hype.
The victory was well deserved for Saracens, who at a stage looked as though they were dead and buried, trailing the defending champions by 10 points with a player in the sin bin.
It was Billy Vunipola who made himself the hero of the day, reaching over in the 65th minute for the decisive try that proved the difference between the two sides.
A tense first half saw the teams go into half-time level at 10-10. That was a fair reflection, with Saracens enjoying the better of opportunities in the opening 20 minutes, despite a couple of poor decisions costing them.
The defending champions got into the game in the latter stages of the first half and received a major boost when Maro Itoje was sent to the sin-bin for repeated infringements.
A further blow came to Saracens as they lost both of their starting props in Mako Vunipola and Titi Lamositele to injuries, leaving Vincent Koch and Richard Barrington to play the remaining 50 minutes. The inevitable try eventually came as big tighthead Tadhg Furlong burrowed over the line from close range.
Koch did have a positive impact though, as he won a turnover penalty which Owen Farrell slotted for their first points of the final. Sean Maitland then went over near the corner for a try that enabled Saracens to go into the break on level terms.
Leinster went for the jugular in the opening stages of the second half, but were well contained by more than a few majestic pieces of defence, including one particularly crucial tackle from Liam Williams.
A decisive blow was laid by Saracens as they went close to the line after a linebreak and superb run from Jackson Wray. While Barrington had a potential try ruled out by the TMO, Leinster lost Scott Fardy to a yellow card.
Farell opted to take the points on offer to give Saracens the lead for the first time in the match. With the pressure on, Billy Vunipola ensured Saracens fully capitalised, breaking from a scrum to bust over and score the crucial try.
Leinster – Try: Tadhg Furlong. Conversion: Johnny Sexton. Penalty: Sexton
Saracens – Tries: Sean Maitland, Billy Vunipola. Conversions: Owen Farrell (2). Penalties: Farrell (2)
Leinster – 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Jordan Larmour, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 James Lowe, 10 Johnny Sexton (c), 9 Luke McGrath, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Seán O’Brien, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 James Ryan, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Seán Cronin, 1 Cian Healy
Subs: 16 James Tracy, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Michael Bent, 19 Rhys Ruddock, 20 Max Deegan, 21 Hugh O’Sullivan, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Rory O’Loughlin
Saracens – 15 Alex Goode, 14 Liam Williams, 13 Alex Lozowski, 12 Brad Barritt (c), 11 Sean Maitland, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Ben Spencer, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Jackson Wray, 6 Maro Itoje, 5 George Kruis, 4 Will Skelton, 3 Titi Lamositele, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola
Subs: 16 Joe Gray, 17 Richard Barrington, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Nick Isiekwe, 20 Schalk Burger, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 Nick Tompkins, 23 David Strettle.
Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images