European Cup: Leinster 30 Saracens 19
PUBLISHED: 18:03 01 April 2018 | UPDATED: 18:03 01 April 2018
PA Wire/PA Images
Stuart Lancaster’s Leinster extinguished English interest in the Champions Cup by inflicting a 30-19 defeat on reigning champions Saracens at the Aviva Stadium.
The Irish province and tournament top seeds will face the Scarlets in the semi-finals at the same ground – most likely on Saturday, April 21 – after completing a conclusive victory in Dublin.
Ireland openside Dan Leavy was outstanding to pick up where he left off in the Grand Slam-clinching win at Twickenham a fortnight ago, crowning his performance with a terrific 47th-minute try that ultimately swept the match beyond Saracens’ reach.
Garry Ringrose and James Lowe also touched down to confirm Leinster’s dominance and it was a fully deserved victory for the team bossed by former England head coach Lancaster. Leinster played the better attacking rugby from start to finish.
Saracens’ doggedness ensured they were never put to the sword and trailing 13-12 at half time they had hope of continuing their quest for a record-equalling third successive European crown deeper into the knock-out phase.
A try for Blair Cowan in the 64th minute revived Saracens spirits after Leinster built a commanding lead, but the wall of blue shirts refused to crack again even though it was the visitors from across the Irish Sea who were ascendant throughout the final quarter.
Mako Vunipola, who saw his brother Billy ruled out by a broken arm, was magnificent but he was swimming against the tide as the only Aviva Premiership club in the quarter-finals bowed out.
Saracens had only themselves to blame when their line cracked as early as the fourth minute, Liam Williams and Jackson Wray falling off Lowe before Isa Nacewa tore down the left touchline and fed Ringrose the scoring pass.
Despite the early setback, the defending champions dominated possession with Vunipola shouldering the bulk of the carrying workload, but they struggled to make any decisive headway against a resolute home defence.
Three penalties from Owen Farrell, who passed a fitness test on a thigh injury to start at fly-half, left Saracens trailing 10-9 at the half-hour mark as a scrappy match weaved an uncertain path.
The tension mounted as Johnny Sexton rifled over three points only to then interfere with the ensuing restart by kicking the ball away, enabling Marcelo Bosch to hit the mark from the halfway line.
Alex Goode’s elusive running was causing problems from full-back and one run swept Saracens deep into opposition territory only for Leinster to defend a close-range line-out.
The Irish province raced out of the blocks in the second half and in eight minutes they had amassed 10 points underpinned by a brilliantly worked try for Leavy, who combined with James Ryan close to the ruck to open up a hole that he galloped through.
Leinster’s onslaught continued with Sexton attacking down the left wing before the wall eventually found Lowe, who was carried over the line by his team-mates.
A line-out drive produced Saracens’ first try of the afternoon with Cowan touching down, but despite the fallen champions’ best efforts they could make no further inroads.