Leinster defeat Saracens to join Munster in Champions Cup semi-finals

Leinster 30 Saracens 19

Leinster joined their provincial rivals Munster in the last four of this season’s European Champions Cup with a comprehensive victory over the reigning champions Saracens at the Aviva Stadium this afternoon.

An impressive Isa Nacewa break along the touchline, with assistance from James Lowe, followed by a perfect offload to the on-running Garry Ringrose saw the youngster touch down for his fourth European try with only 4 minutes on the clock. A successful conversion from Johnny Sexton meant the home side was 7-0 clear only minutes into this quarter-final.

Owen Farrell, who was accurate with his place kicking all afternoon, registered his side’s opening score 5 minutes later when he slotted a penalty over from right in front of the Leinster posts. The Englishman soon narrowed the gap even further when another straightforward effort for a kicker of his ability left the bare minimum between these two powerful sides after quarter of an hour of this thrilling encounter.

Johnny Sexton, who was clearly targeted all afternoon, kicked a successful penalty from a central position just outside the 10m line for a 10-6 lead at the end of the opening quarter.

In a tit-for-tat battle on the scoreboard, Farrell again reduced the deficit when scoring a penalty from slightly further out than his previous one.

Leinster’s fly-half again increased the home side’s lead with another penalty from in front of the posts with the clock past the half hour mark. Right after that score, however, Sexton must have either said something, or did something which TV cameras didn’t catch, as the referee awarded a penalty to Saracens while making it clear the Dubliner was responsible for the awarding of the penalty.

Argentine Marcelo Bosch, renowned for his long penalty-taking ability, duly punished Sexton and Leinster for the indiscretion when a massive kick from the halfway line comfortably sailed over the crossbar, even with metres to spare. Yet again there was just a single point dividing these teams.

Saracens had another penalty opportunity on the stroke of half time but surprisingly Farrell opted to go for the corner instead of what seemed a routine kick at the posts. During the ensuing lineout the English Premiership side knocked the ball on to end the first 40 minute period of this Champions Cup quarter-final with Leinster leading 13-12 at the whistle.

In the second half a generally more aggressive Leinster started to put their visitors to the sword as their domination in the breakdown came to the fore. Sexton opened the scoring with a penalty in the 42nd minute from just inside the Saracens half, the kicker having both the accuracy and the distance to push his side into a four point lead, 16-12.

Dan Leavy, who had an impressive NatWest 6 Nations campaign with Ireland and was Man of the Match today, found space opening up in front of him as he surged towards the Saracens’ posts, and seemingly to his disbelief, Mark McCall’s players failed to catch him as he made a clear straight run to touch down under the sticks, before Sexton added the extras for 23-12.

By this stage, there was real daylight between the sides for the first time in this encounter. As James Lowe made an effort to cross the line Sarries defended well and prevented him, before reinforcements in the form of James Ryan and Jordi Murphy helped the Nelson, New Zealand-born winger in for what was his 7th try in just nine Leinster appearances. This time Fergus McFadden added the two-point conversion and Leinster had an 18 point cushion between themselves and the European Champions.

Blair Cowen, introduced in the latter stages of the game, gave Saracens one final push towards a semi-final in later April when he crossed over for a try and he only minutes on the field. Farrell’s successful conversion kick was the last score of the game, leaving Leinster the victors by a 30-19 scoreline.

Leo Cullen’s side will now host fellow Guinness Pro14 side, Scarlets, in the semi-final at the Aviva Stadium the weekend of 21-22 April with exact dates and times to be confirmed over the coming days.

Munster, who defeated French Top 14 side Toulon in a thriller at Thomond Park on Saturday evening, will travel to Stade Chaban-Delmas in Bordeaux for their semi-final clash with Donnacha Ryan’s Racing 92. The dream of an all-Irish final in Bilbao on Saturday, 12th May, is still alive.

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