Wednesday 22 May 2019

Saracens star reveals how Leinster loss inspired Champions Cup final push

Darren Sweetnam of Munster is tackled by Alex Goode of Saracens during the Heineken Champions Cup Semi-Final match between Saracens and Munster at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry, England. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Darren Sweetnam of Munster is tackled by Alex Goode of Saracens during the Heineken Champions Cup Semi-Final match between Saracens and Munster at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry, England. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Andrew Baldock

Alex Goode says that Saracens' last Heineken Champions Cup defeat a year ago helped "fuel the fire" for another concerted European title challenge.

Saracens reached their third European final in four seasons, and fourth overall, by crushing Munster 32-16 at Coventry's Ricoh Arena.

It was the English champions' eighth successive victory in the tournament this term, extending an impressive unbeaten European record since quarter-final opponents Leinster toppled them last April.

Only Leicester among English clubs have appeared in more European Cup finals than Goode and company, and he is relishing next month's final at St James' Park, Newcastle.

"We were disappointed to go out in the quarter-finals last year, and that helped us fuel the fire in terms of being better and having that intensity," Saracens full-back Goode said.

"It doesn't matter who we play, we just want to be out there in a final, which excites us.

"The final is going to be very hard, but it is one we are desperate to win."

Second-half tries by back-row forwards Michael Rhodes and Billy Vunipola underpinned Saracens' latest semi-final triumph, while fly-half Owen Farrell kicked 22 points - just two short of equalling Jonny Wikinson's European semi-final record.

Goode added: "It is a brilliant achievement from the whole group. We get very excited by this tournament - we love it.

"It means a lot to the club. It's a very special tournament, and to be in another final is outstanding for the whole group."

Next month's final will be just over 11 years to the day since Goode made his Saracens debut, and he said: "For me, this club is unbelievably special.

"It is the only club I've known and I love being part of it. It is another campaign where we are doing very well.

"I cherish these semi-finals and finals because you never know when they are gone and, for me, it means everything being out there for this club.

"I have never played at St James' Park before and I am very excited for it and a European final. I know how hard they are and how well you have to play."

Saracens were crowned European champions in 2016 and 2017 and they once again delivered on the big occasion, inflicting Munster's seventh successful semi-final defeat on their record 14th appearance in the last four.

There was controversy after the match as Vunipola, who has received formal warnings from his club and the Rugby Football Union in the past week after a homophobic social media post, appeared to be confronted by spectator. A picture showed the England star being approached by a man wearing a Munster shirt, gesturing at him with his fingers as Vunipola joined team-mates on a lap of honour.

Tournament organisers European Professional Club Rugby described it as a "regrettable incident".

Saracens rugby director Mark McCall said on his side's performance: "The team was outstanding across the board. We got all the big parts of our game right - it was a great team effort.

"You work incredibly hard to be involved in games like this one. You could see how tight the group was and how together we were.

"We know that Munster do their fundamentals incredibly well - their set-piece is outstanding. They are an impressive defensive team, hard to get momentum against, but we managed to do that.

"It was a wearing down process. These games take a long time to win. We felt it was building. It was a good persistent performance."

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