Joy on Tyneside as Saracens clinch Heineken Champions Cup
PUBLISHED: 19:19 11 May 2019 | UPDATED: 19:30 11 May 2019
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A Billy Vunipola-inspired Saracens are kings of Europe once more after a 20-10 win over Leinster in the Heineken Champions Cup final.
The England man was the match-winner once more, just as he was in the semi-final, scoring the crucial try 13 minutes from time.
That day in Coventry his big bear paw had reached down as the Munster players tried in vain to stop him crossing the line.
Here in the white-hot cauldron of St James' Park in Newcastle the Leinster players had managed to fell the big grizzly short of the line.
But he still had the composure to reach out and dot the ball down under the posts.
It was an emphatic performance throughout from the big number eight who was at the forefront of most of the attacking impetus from the north London side.
It didn't look as if it would be their day either, as they trailed 10-0 going into the final minute of the first half.
But they turned that round before the break and to the delight of their travelling support they were the able to see time out in relative comfort.
The game was in keeping with the occasion.
Newcastle had "its best frock on" said in-ground commentator Ian Smith and it was hard to argue.
The sun stayed out for the majority of the day and the expected rain never really materialised.
And the thousands of fans, not just from Leinster and Saracens, but from across the rugby family lapped it up at the Toon's many bars and restaurants.
Their support deserved this contest.
But if you thought this was going to be a tactical game with kicking and set-pieces prevalent, then you were wrong.
This was two heavyweights standing toe-to-toe and simply slugging it out in a slobberknocker of epic proportions.
To show just how taxing the opening spell was, when referee Jerome Garces called for a break in play after 24 minutes, the scene saw players littering round the pitch, hands on hips or down on one knee, desperately gulping in the crisp Tyneside air.
And by the time the frantic opening 40 minutes had ended the titans could not be separated, tied at 10-10.
How they were still level may have been the subject of much debate around the ground.
An early penalty form Johnny Sexton had given Leinster the lead and they extended that on 32 minutes when Devin Toner barrelled over for a yard or so.
Saracens were down to 14 men at that point, Maro Itoje taking an enforced rest for two infringements at the breakdown.
That decision came at the same time as the departure of Mako Vunipola and Titi Lamositele, the props looking broken as they made way for Vincent Koch and Richard Barrington.
And you sensed Leinster were on the verge of running away with it
Yet Saracens somehow rallied. Owen Farrell landed a penalty from a central decision as the clock ticked into the 40th minute and it was his kick deep into the Leinster half on the last play that brought a line-out, and eventually a try out wide for Sean Maitland.
Saracens had been guilty of too many turnovers in the first half, and the frustrations were evident among those in red.
But those 10 points had the potential of reigniting their belief and changing the momentum of the contest.
There was some evidence of that happening too.
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Leinster started on the front foot and spent the opening eight minutes pounding the Sarries' line.
Koch made one turnover and a second, with Farrell booting it to touch just shy of half-way had the Men in Black's fans, the majority of which were housed in the famous Gallowgate end, roaring their approval.
A yellow card appeared in the second half too, this time coming to Leinster.
It was right in front of the posts and Farrell slotted the penalty to put Saracens ahead for the first time.
But it was as the 10 minutes were ending Vunipola had his say.
From there Saracens were in their pomp, bashing Leinster with rock-solid defence, and keeping the Irishmen pinned inside their own 22.
Celebrations on the bench began prematurely but with the clock in the red, they knew they weren't going to be stopped.
Moments later they began properly and will probably go on long into the Newcastle night.
Saracens: M.Vunipola, George, Lamositele, Skelton, Kruis, Itoje, Wray, B.Vunipola, Spencer, O.Farrell, Maitland, Barritt, Lozowski, Williams, Goode.
Replacements: Gray, Barrington, Koch, Isiekwe, Burger, Wigglesworth, Tompkins, Strettle.
Tries: Maitland 40, B.Vunipola 67
Conversions: Farrell 40, 67
Penalties: Farrell 40, 59
Yellow card: Itoje 30
Leinster: Healy, Cronin, Furlong, Toner, Ryan, Fardy, O'Brien, Conan, L.McGrath, Sexton, Lowe, Henshaw, Ringrose, Larmour, Kearney.
Replacements: Tracy, J.McGrath, Bent, Ruddock, Deegan, O'Sullivan, Byrne, O'Loughlin.
Tries: Toner 32
Conversions: Sexton 32
Penalties: Sexton 4
Yellow card: Fardy 58
HT: Saracens 10 Leinster 10
Attendance: 51,390 (St James' Park, Newcastle)
Referee: Jerome Garces (France)
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