LEINSTER 17-25 SARACENS
Saracens ended Leinster’s 25-game winning streak, this season, as they marched on to the Champions Cup semi-finals. On this evidence, they will take some beating.
A joke was already going around, after the 15-minute mark, about the 12th place Premiership team serving out a severe beatdown to the best the Guinness PRO14 could throw up. By half-time, with Leinster trailing 22-3, those comments littered social media.
Leinster may have coasted to the PRO14 title, over the past month, but they met their match in a Saracens side that look primed to rub all of Europe’s noses in it. Already doomed to relegation, in England, for payment irregularities, the reigning European champions leave Dublin with a firm grip on their crown.
They won’t be back next year but they may yet ensure that however wins next season’s competition will have a big asterisks beside their name in the record books.
Sarries may have lost a host of big names – allowed leave for new clubs to meet salary cap requirements while Owen Farrell was suspended – but they still had 13 internationals in their starting XV. Leinster started slowly and sloppily and referee Pascal Gauzere was being a stickler at the breakdown. It was 9-3 to the English side after only 11 minutes.
In all the match previews, across various media forms, few would have focused too much on the scrum playing a vital part in this game. As it was Mako Vunipola, Jamie George and Vincent Koch – with plenty of help and heft from Maro Itoje and Tim Swinson – gobbled up their opposite front row. Saracens won eight massive scrum penalties during the 80 minutes. At one stage, Elliot Daly stepped up to give outhalf Alex Goode a hand, dispatching one from 52 metres out.
A woeful half for Leinster ended with Goode slicing through the Leinster backline after a smart offload took a couple of defenders out. That made it 22-3 and it could have been worse if Daly had succeeded with a more ambitious punt from 58 metres. HALF-TIME: Leinster 3-22 Saracens
The second half saw Leinster tear into Sarries but leave their 22 empty-handed after Itoje made a superb turnover. Their scrum was still dominating but Leinster did have one weapon that was causing damage – rolling mauls.
Leo Cullen’s men looked dangerous there all afternoon and it was the one platform they could launch off, and exert serious pressure with. After sucking in several bodies from one phase of mauling pressure, Leinster got back in the game when they eventually detached and swung left. Andrew Porter was there to power over under the posts.
Sarries survived more Leinster pressure and thanked their scrum for getting them easy exits, and penalties, but Leinster were not finished and their bench started to make an impact. Ryan Baird was horsing into black jerseys and had one great strip on Billy Vunipola but Jamison Gibson-park and Rory O’Loughlin made an instant impression.
On 62 minutes, just after they came on, the pair teamed up to make some space and put Jordan Larmour in space. The Leinster fullback did the rest and it was a one-score game.
The Larmour try that gave Leinster hope…pic.twitter.com/2hnb98TGMU
— SportsJOE (@SportsJOEdotie) September 19, 2020
Winners that they are (despite what and league table may say), Saracens dug deep to bring the fight to Leinster in the closing stages and they won two penalties that would have sealed the game but Goode then Daly missed them both.
Leinster’s goose was finally cooked on 76 minutes, though, when Gibson-Park’s bullet pass to Conan did not stick. Sarries called another scrum, won another penalty and Goode finally delivered the killer blow.
OUR MAN OF THE MATCH: Maro Itoje (Saracens)