05302017

Saracens reach third Champions Cup final in four years

Saracens score through Mako Vunipola

Mako Vunipola bundled over at the bottom of a pile of bodies to set Saracens on their way

Defending champions Saracens survived a first-half examination from Munster before taking control to reach a third Champions Cup final in four years.

Munster dominated the first half but somehow trailed 6-3 at the break, Tyler Bleyendaal landing one penalty to two from Owen Farrell.

A converted Mako Vunipola try saw Saracens start to pull away.

And, with Farrell landing his shots at goal for a 100% record, a Chris Wyles try saw them home with some ease.

Saracens will face the winner of Sunday’s Clermont Auvergne v Leinster match in the final in Edinburgh on Saturday, 13 May.

Billy Vunipola<!–

Sarries have matched Leinster’s 2010-12 record run of 17 games unbeaten in top-tier European competition – 16 wins and one draw

Foley’s memory fires Munster

The scoreline might suggest it was yet another ruthless performance from Saracens, who did the English and European double last year, but for the first 40 minutes it looked as though it might be two-time former winners Munster heading to Murrayfield.

Their run to the last four has been hugely emotional, with head coach Anthony Foley dying the night before they were due to face Racing 92 in their opening match in this season’s European Champions Cup.

Determined to honour the memory of a true Munster man, they had rekindled memories of their European reign a decade ago and their passionate supporters filled nine-tenths of the 51,300 seats in the Aviva Stadium.

Roared on by their fans they had two-thirds of the territory and three-quarters of the possession in the opening half, but superb defence from Saracens kept them at bay and ensured that the romantics hoping for a Munster victory were denied by the pragmatists from north London.

‘Wolfpack’ defence keeps Munster out

Saracens are renowned for the ruthless efficiency of their game, content to kick for territory before launching attacks, and happy to use their ‘Wolfpack’ defence to not only keep the opposition at bay but drive them back behind the gainline.

And it was their defence that kept them in it during an opening 40 minutes that saw them pinned inside their own half by the accurate boots of Munster half-backs Duncan Williams and Bleyendaal.

Indiscipline prevented Saracens from building any momentum of their own.

But no matter how hard Munster pressed they could not break down the Londoners’ defensive wall, and so obdurate were they that, despite being under the cosh for long periods, the champions turned round three points to the good.

Scrum power helps Saracens take control

Saracens have the put-in at a scrum against Munster<!–

This scrum was solid but the more the game went on the more destructive Saracens become

After the restart it was the most workmanlike part of the game that saw them wrest the upper hand, with their front row increasingly dominant in the scrums as tight-head Vincent Koch turned on the power.

A trickle of penalties enabled England sharp-shooter Farrell to edge them further into the lead and after cutting out the silly penalties of the first half they assumed total control.

They were still far from perfect and added two more bad misses to one in the first half, when Richard Wigglesworth had dropped the ball with a clear run to the line.

First Alex Goode passed behind Chris Ashton with a try begging, before George Kruis showed his rugby intelligence to pick and drive from a ruck, only to drop the ball as he reached to score.

But England prop Vunipola rumbled over to give them a 10-point lead and with their big carriers – brother Billy prominent among them – now smashing over the gainline, the momentum had swung entirely.

Replacement Wyles latched on to a Farrell grubber kick to put them out of sight and although Lions tourist Stander scored a late consolation, it was long since clear that it was the businesslike Londoners who were headed to the final.

‘Our togetherness shone through’ – what the managers said

Saracens boss Mark McCall:

“I thought our defence was extraordinary. We soaked up a lot of pressure and coped with their attack really well.

“The game started exactly as they would have wanted. We couldn’t really escape our half in the first half but our defence remained good.

“It was a brilliant occasion. Munster’s supporters are as good as any in the world. In the face of that, the fight and the togetherness we had to show, to win the game was brilliant.”

Munster boss Rassie Erasmus:

“We played against a team that were better than us. That’s a reality.

“Even though there were stages that were close and we had a few opportunities, I thought the scoreboard was a true reflection of the game.”

Line-ups

Munster: Zebo; Conway, Taute, R Scannell, Earls; Bleyendaal, Williams; Kilcoyne, N Scannell, J Ryan, D Ryan, B Holland, P O’Mahony, O’Donnell, Stander.

Replacements: Saili for Taute (55), Sweetnam for Earls (63), Keatley for Bleyendaal (71), Cronin for Kilcoyne (56), Marshall for N Scannell (60), Archer for J Ryan (63), D. O’Callaghan for P O’Mahony (52), Deysel for O’Donnell (50).

Saracens: Goode; Ashton, Bosch, Barritt, Maitland; Farrell, Wigglesworth; M Vunipola, George, Koch, Itoje, Kruis, Rhodes, Wray, B Vunipola.

Replacements: Lozowski for Bosch (74), Wyles for Maitland (62), Spencer for Wigglesworth (71), Lamositele for M Vunipola (71), Brits for George (50), du Plessis for Koch (71), Hamilton for Itoje (74), S Burger for Wray (55).

Sin Bin: Wray (22).

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