Thursday 20 September 2018

All Ireland Champions Cup final very much on as Leinster join Munster in semis following win over Saracens

Leinster 30 Saracens 19

Leinster players congratulate Dan Leavy after he scored their side's second try
Leinster players congratulate Dan Leavy after he scored their side's second try
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

Saracens won't be matching Toulon's three in a row just yet. They came to the Aviva knowing it would require something special to get past the form team in this competition, but despite heaps of possession came up well short.

So it was full endorsement of the Leinster defence against a top class side. Not only were they very disciplined in their defensive shape but the accuracy and willingness to make hit after hit kept them  in the game. James Ryan (15), Scott Fardy (17) and man of the match Dan Leavy (14) lead the tackle stats with a savage attitude.

The reward is a home semifinal against Scarlets in three weeks, which will bring another full house - and with the added attraction of what unfolded between these teams in the Guinness Pro 14 last season.

If the endgame was enervating in itself then the first half for the most part was an exercise in flat out endurance for Leinster. Despite a dream start with a beautiful combination from James Lowe and Isa Nacewa to put Garry Ringrose over inside four minutes, the home team were mostly on the receiving end.

Sarries ability to retain the ball, and their attack shape, was forcing Leinster into an industrial load of tackles. By the break they had been forced into almost 40 more tackles than their opponents, which was robbing them of energy.

But at least they were keeping their line intact. For all Sarries' ball their only contact with the scoreboard was through the boot of Owen Farrell. He hit two in a few minutes to close the Leinster lead to 7-6, and when Johnny Sexton got another one on 21 minutes his Lions mate responded a few minutes later to make it 10-9.

The daft bit was how the Leinster 10 conceded a penalty seconds after slotting another three points, on 34 minutes. On his way back he kicked the ball away from the half way line - so up stepped long range specialist Marcelo Bosch to nail another three.

Another penalty against Sexton allowed Sarries to set up a maul opportunity with the clock in the last minute. They would have been better off taking the points as Leinster stole the lineout and headed to the changing room with that 13-12 lead. In the overall scheme of things it was a massive moment.

Mostly they needed some possession to make Saracens do some defensive work - at least go-forward ball. Their first break came with a brilliant grubber from Ringrose that earned his side 50 metres in territory and the chance to pile on some pressure. They did just that before working a lovely try for Dan Leavy. He worked a little one-two with James Ryan off the side of a ruck 20 metres out and with two defenders committed to Ryan the flanker got over unopposed.

Sexton's conversion put Leinster 23-12 ahead, which didn't feel like a game-winning lead. But with the possession and territory stats evening out to just a slight advantage to the away side it illustrated the swing in Leinster's favour. Critically they started getting around the corner more and putting some momentum into their carrying.

So when Ryan made great metres taking it up off phase play on Saracens' exposed right side Leinster were in business. They retained control until close to the line when James Lowe got over to score. With Sexton limiting his kicking involvement Fergus McFadden nailed the extras for a 30-12 lead.

Sexton eventually went off on 69 minutes by which point Sarries had pulled seven points back through a Blair Cowan try and Farrell conversion. They still had time to do damage and might have done more had Rob Kearney been binned for a no-arms tackle on Liam Williams which put the wing off the field. Instead the only man to see yellow was Devin Toner for foul play on replacement scrumhalf Ben Spencer.

Combined with Leinster's increasingly loose kicking game it made for a nervous finish where the home team made it hard on themselves and their supporters. But with Sarries spilling an incredible amount of ball it worked out in the end.

Leinster: R Kearney; F McFadden, G Ringrose, I Nacewa (capt)(R O'Loughlin 79), J Lowe; J Sexton, L McGrath (N McCarthy 66); C Healy (J McGrath 54), S Cronin (T Tracy 60), T Furlong (A Porter 66), D Toner (yc 75), J Ryan, S Fardy (R Ruddock 66), J Murphy (M Deegan 79), D Leavy

Saracens: A Goode; L Williams (HIA C Wyles 63), M Bosch (A Lozowski 60), B Barritt (capt), S Maitland; O Farrell, R Wigglesworth (B Spencer 60); M Vunipola (R Barrinigton 77), J George (S Brits 52), J Figallo, M Itoje, G Kruis (D Day 77), N Isiekwe, J Wray, S Burger (B Cowan 60)

Referee: J Garces (France)

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