Owen Farrell kicked 14 points as Saracens beat Wasps 24-17 in their European Champions Cup semi-final on Saturday. MARIETTE ADAMS reports.
When these sides last met, in the English Premiership, Wasps hammered Saracens 64-23 in London. But Sarries had previously racked up nine straight wins in this fixture.
As expected, this was a fiercely contested match that swung one way then the other, but in the end it was Saracens who kept the scoreboard ticking over through the reliable boot of Farrell and held their nerve to book a place in the final.
Wasps' backline were threatening throughout the 80 minutes, but Saracens forwards dominated the collisions up front which ultimately laid the foundation for this victory.
Wasps made a blistering start when they broke out from inside their 22 through wing Christian Wade, who flew down the right-hand touchline before releasing scrumhalf Dan Robson for a converted try in the second minute.
Saracens, though, didn’t panic and slowed the pace of the game down, a tactic that saw them respond with 14 unanswered points for what proved to be an unassailable lead. Flank Michael Rhodes got Sarries on the board with an unconverted try following a charged-down kick, before Farrell slotted a 40th-minute penalty to give them an 8-7 advantage.
Farrell and Gopperth then traded kicks after the break as the teams continued to go at each other, but both defences held firm until the 68th minute. With Saracens on the attack, the referee was alerted to foul play off the ball. Saracens lock Maro Itoje had held on to Wasps defender Simon McIntyre, preventing him from joining the defensive line and out of frustration McIntyre kicked Itoje in the head. But while Itoje’s act went unpunished, McIntyre conceded a penalty and was yellow-carded.
Farrell turned the offence into three more points for Saracens, who were awarded a penalty try five minutes later to give them a 24-10 lead.
Wasps called on their replacements and it was South African Ashley Johnson who made the biggest impact. The hooker ran on to the ball at pace to score a converted try with four minutes remaining, but there was to be no further twist in the tale in the dying stages, as Saracens successfully closed out the game to reach the final for a second time in three years.
Saracens – Tries: Michael Rhodes, penalty try. Conversion: Owen Farrell. Penalties: Farrell (4).
Wasps – Tries: Dan Robson, Ashley Johnson. Conversions: Jimmy Gopperth (2). Penalty: Gopperth.
Saracens – 15 Alex Goode, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Duncan Taylor, 12 Brad Barritt (c), 11 Chris Wyles, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Will Fraser, 6 Michael Rhodes, 5 George Kruis, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Petrus du Plessis, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Subs: 16 Jared Saunders, 17 Richard Barrington, 18 Titi Lamositele, 19 Jim Hamilton, 20 Jackson Wray, 21 Neil de Kock, 22 Charlie Hodgson, 23 Marcelo Bosch.
Wasps – 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Christian Wade, 13 Elliot Daly, 12 Siale Piutau, 11 Frank Halai, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Dan Robson, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 George Smith, 6 James Haskell (c), 5 Bradley Davies, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Carlo Festuccia, 1 Matt Mullan.
Subs: 16 Ashley Johnson, 17 Simon McIntyre, 18 Phil Swainston, 19 Sam Jones, 20 Thomas Young, 21 Joe Simpson, 22 Ruaridh Jackson, 23 Rob Miller.
Photo: Dan Mullan/Getty Images