BET­TER LUCK NEXT TYNE

No fifth ti­tle as Le­in­ster go down to Sar­ries in New­cas­tle

Sunday Mirror (Northern Ireland) - - Irish Racing - BY MICHAEL SCULLY

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

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