BETTER LUCK NEXT TYNE
No fifth title as Leinster go down to Sarries in Newcastle
THE drive for five crashed and burned in Newcastle as Leinster experienced the pain of a firstever Champions Cup final defeat.
Winners four times in their four previous deciders, the Blues let slip the 10-point lead they had built by the 34th minute.
Saracens, the 2016 and ‘17 title winners, showed the killer instinct that their opponents lacked and
Mark McCall’s side deserve their crown.
Leo Cullen’s side knew they were facing into their toughest challenge since their Bilbao triumph last May.
So it proved as Sarries choked the life out of Leinster, keeping them scoreless for the last 46 minutes at St James’ Park.
But Leinster will reflect on chances missed.
With the clock in the red for halftime, Luke McGrath chose not to kick for touch to end the half and Sarries responded with a converted try to restore parity.
In the 47th minute, Garry Ringrose spurned a four on two overlap and a certain try to try to go it alone.
Earlier, in the first half, Jordan Larmour showed off his electrifying speed to burn Sean Maitland and, had he collected the loose ball, he would have scored the game’s opening try.
He couldn’t, and Sarries were off the hook. Now Leinster must quickly recover if they are to salvage their season – they play Munster in a PRO14 semi next weekend.
In contrast, Sarries made the most of their opportunities. They are Europe’s form team this season with nine wins from nine games.
Until Billy Vunipola’s converted 66th minute try, the contest was still in the melting pot. Until then, it was a fascinating contest.
Sarries knew from early on that ref Jerome Garces was going to police the offside line and Vunipola was pinged in the third minute for one such offence.
Johnny Sexton’s (left) penalty put Leinster ahead in what was a nervy opening by both teams in front of the 51,930 sell-out crowd.
Leinster had a let-off in the 20th minute when, as Sarries rumbled close to their opponent’s try-line, Brad Barritt shoulder charged Scott Fardy in a ruck and a Blues penalty resulted.
Rob Kearney’s break took him close to the line but he was stopped just short by Ben Spencer.
However heavy pressure took a big toll on Sarries, who lost both props Mako Vunipola and Titi Lamositele – to injury, just as Itoje was sin-binned for twice straying offside.
Leinster opted for a scrum penalty and Tadhg Furlong, making his 100th Leinster appearance, barrelled over in the 33rd minute, with Sexton converting.
Sarries needed to get points on the board before half-time and did so in convincing fashion.
Replacement prop Vincent Koch followed up a big George Kruis tackle on Sexton to win a penalty and Farrell nailed it. There was just enough time to restart and, propelled back into Leinster’’s 22 by Farrell, the out-half ’s clever flicked pass to Maitland gifted the Scotland winger a try.
Farrell’s conversion squeaked just inside the near post. Suddenly it was all square.
Leinster started the second half well but Kruis produced a big steal for to relieve the pressure.
Then Ringrose had men outside him but ignored the overlap. While Cian Healy almost scored, following up, Williams won a turnover penalty on Ringrose and the danger passed.
The sight of Itoje practically relieving James Ryan of his No.5 shirt confirmed Sarries were back in business. Jackson Wray’s break returned them to Leinster’s 22.
Will Skelton and Itoje both came close to a try but Sarries had to content themselves with three points – and the added bonus of Fardy binned for offside.
The men in red still sensed blood. Itoje might have been fortunate not to see yellow again for a high challenge, but Sarries struck the killer blow six minutes later.
With Fardy still off, Saracens opted for a scrum penalty from close range and Vunipola powered over.
Farrell converted and Sarries easily managed to keep Leinster at bay to claim their prize.
A SARRIE EPISOIDE Billy Vunipola goes over for Saracens as Leinster were well beaten on Tyneside
SMILES APART Saracens lift the European Cup at St James’ Park