Monday 20 May 2019

'They're big, big men. Very big men' - Leinster's drive for five derailed by ruthless Saracens machine

Leinster players following the Heineken Champions Cup Final defeat to Saracens
Leinster players following the Heineken Champions Cup Final defeat to Saracens
A disappointed Jonathan Sexton after Leinster’s 20-10 defeat to Saracens in the Champions Cup final at St James’s Park in Newcastle yesterday. Photo: David Fitzgerald. Photo: Sportsfile
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

Leinster's drive for five stalled in the face of an immense Saracens side in Newcastle yesterday. They will have no complaints, having lost their European title to the side they turfed out of this competition at the quarter-final stage last season.

"They're big, big men," Leo Cullen said afterwards. "Very big men."

Yes, and they are big on ambition and work rate and lots of other stuff as well. A man who has faced them a few times in recent seasons related something to us last week that summed them up. While their kicking strategy is not what lots of folks want from their rugby, you can't argue with its effect, or its efficiency.

"When they're reviewing the GPS stats from the players they look at the effort put in on kick-chase," he said. "And if players are not sprinting flat-out to chase it down, they're called out on it."

It's a key area of Saracens' game so it requires detailed attention. And if anything illustrates Mark McCall's tenure at the club - he has overseen three European titles now in the last four, plus four Premiership titles with another likely to be just around the corner - it's attention to detail. True, they are resourced better than any other club in England, but they get the maximum from every cent invested.

Their ability to strangle teams is unparalleled, though Leinster did themselves no favours either side of the break, first by not getting the ball off the field when they were 10-3 ahead and the clock was in overtime, allowing Saracens to level the game through Sean Maitland's try; and then early in the second half when Garry Ringrose chose to straighten rather than give when he had four men outside him. Leinster failed to score after the break.

Leinster's Johnny Sexton and team mates get to grips with defeat to Saracens at St James's Park in Newcastle. Photo: Reuters
Leinster's Johnny Sexton and team mates get to grips with defeat to Saracens at St James's Park in Newcastle. Photo: Reuters

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"It was pivotal in terms of changing the momentum of the game," Brad Barritt said of Maitland's try. "It was almost like the Maro (Itoje) yellow card released us and allowed us to play our game. Today the guys were phenomenal. Sadly my wife and son couldn't make it. One thing for sure, we're really going to enjoy it tonight. The sky's the limit for this team."

McCall was quick to credit the players for fixing what needed to be fixed, and turning the game around.

"To be 10 down against a side of the quality of Leinster was definitely not the position to be in," he said. "And we had lost Maro to the bin as well. Our players took control at half-time; they were very clear on what we needed to do. We weren't miles off. We knew we had a little more in us in attack and defence. We just asked for more."

And they got it. Leinster on the other hand couldn't respond, and Johnny Sexton conceded that the try just before the break was "a killer".

"Then we start the second half really well and we've two or three chances to score which we don't take. And they're the margins you live with in this competition. They were very clinical and they're an excellent side. We knew that, but if you don't take your chances it's harder."

Against this class of opposition it's impossible.

Munster won't bring the same quality of game to the RDS in the Guinness Pro14 semi-final on Saturday, but then they were resting up this weekend while Leinster were embroiled in what was a hugely physical encounter. It will take them a while to recover.

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