20 The Daily Telegraph Monday 21 September 2020 *** Sport Champions Cup How Saracens pulled off the most impressive result of season his hips out. On another day, you can argue that it is their loosehead who is the one instigating that movement. “Again, this is me just making some assessments here, but it plays a huge part in the game.” chief rugby correspondent By Gavin Mairs at the Aviva Stadium Tangible reward: Alex Goode (left) and Elliot Daly after victory against Leinster Leinster 17-25 Saracens Pride, tactics and intensity against Leinster all combined to help secure a place in the Champions Cup semi-finals Defensive intensity are away on loan,” he said. “Maybe we deserved this, maybe we’ve got to do it the hard way, maybe that would prove that what we built is true, is special if we do it like this. “We want to do it for each other rather than prove it to anyone else. I’d be lying if it wasn’t a bonus to show everyone, but it is definitely not the primary motivation.” Just as Leinster had squeezed the life out of Ulster in the Pro14 final with their relentless defence, Saracens did a similar job to Cullen’s side with a gargantuan effort. Incredibly, seven Saracens forwards managed to make 10 or more tackles each. Jamie George topped the chart with 20, closely followed by Koch and Maro Itoje (18 each). The Saracens power plays across the defensive line heightened their advantage in the collisions, reminiscent of England’s victory against Ireland at the same stadium at the start of last year’s Six Nations. Leinster did manage to find more space in the second half when their more impactful bench tested Saracens’ energy levels, most notably with the rapier execution of Jordan Larmour’s try. The Last Dance factor This was a performance that had been building for Saracens ever since the Premiership restarted last month. The relegation for salarycap breaches allowed Mark McCall’s side to put all their focus on preparations for their European campaign, but more significant was the urgency that came from playing to extend their top-flight competition and finish what will be their last Champions Cup campaign for at least two years with a bang. Brad Barritt and Richard Wigglesworth, two club stalwarts who are effectively playing in overtime – they will leave the club next month – underpinned that commitment. “It was the prospect of having another week together,” Barritt admitted. “We know after this season there will be a slightly differentlooking squad and we owed it to ourselves to have a big game. We’ve shown a huge amount of character playing in games that don’t mean anything. Today was about fighting for something tangible. We owed it to ourselves to represent the Saracens badge and I couldn’t be more proud of my team.” The 37-year-old Wigglesworth said there was also a sense that the club were relishing proving themselves following the exodus of players and relegation due to the salary-cap sanctions. “We’re not looking for any sympathy because what’s happening is happening, but we are doing this with one hand tied behind our back because five or six of our best players Tactical edge Even without the presence of Owen Farrell, who was suspended for the match, Saracens were critically able to execute a kicking game that picked away at a weakness in the Leinster defence. James Lowe, for all his talent, is not a dominant player in the air and Wigglesworth targeted him with his box-kicking again and again. Central to this was also brilliant kick-chasing by Alex Lewington, Sean Maitland, Duncan Taylor and Michael Rhodes, a pressure that set the tone when Jack Conan knocked on from the kick-off. As Saracens built their lead via the boot of Alex Goode and Elliot Daly, it simply intensified that pressure in the first half. “What we did talk about was trying to put them into some positions that they’re not normally accustomed to being in,” McCall said. “Trying to harass them in the backfield as much as we could, force them to do things they ordinarily wouldn’t want to do 20 or 30 metres from their own goal-line. “We just managed to put them under enough pressure for that first 40 minutes in particular, to make them make mistakes and give us some penalties. “The players went out there and they did it, they were so engaged and had so much energy that they were able to harass them and put them under some pressure.” Scrum dominance today, our props … it was an unbelievable performance from them. “That gave us all the territory and all the points to build a lead and build pressure, and get us out of situations, so massive credit to them. Mako was like me; coming in off the back of an injury. He hadn’t done a lot, but then came in and produced that performance.” Leo Cullen, Leinster’s head coach, was frustrated by some of the officiating interpretation, yet his forwards should have been more adept in reacting to the challenge. “They load up in a lot of ways,” Cullen said. “There is that weight. You see some of the collapses, that’s quite often due to the fact that they don’t have stability. There is the axis as well of the scrum. We are getting penalised for our loosehead kicking Ian Peel, Saracens’ forwards coach, will have been elated at what was an immense scrummaging display by his pack, which yielded seven penalties – critically two in the first half which were landed from long range by Daly that drained both energy and confidence from their Irish opponents. Vincent Koch was supreme in his domination of Cian Healy, while Mako Vunipola made a remarkable return after such a long period out of the game because of injury. “Everyone talks about wanting the game to be this way and that, but it’s always been about doing the basics better than the other team and bringing a load of intensity,” Wigglesworth said. “Our front five Oh Maro Itoje The England lock is now arguably Saracens’ most influential player, and his all-round menace – including his unseen scrummaging power behind Vunipola – was central to the victory. His athleticism and power are well-documented but on Saturday he demonstrated just how rugby smart he has become, making a crucial interception at the end of a sustained period of pressure by Leinster, reading that the ball was live at the base of a ruck and timing his run perfectly to pluck the ball ahead of Will Connors. The case has already been made in these pages for Itoje to be named as captain of the Lions for the tour of South Africa next summer and his performance provided further compelling evidence.
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