Heineken Champions Cup: Saracens beat Leinster 25-17 in thrilling quarter-final

Alex Goode try
Alex Goode's 37th minute try helped Saracens to a 22-3 half-time lead
Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final
Leinster (3) 17
Tries: Porter, Larmour Cons: Sexton 2 Pen: Sexton
Saracens (22) 25
Try: Goode Con: Goode Pens: Goode 4, Daly 2

Saracens held off a stirring Leinster fightback to keep their hopes of retaining the Heineken Champions Cup alive, while ending the province's undefeated season in a thrilling Dublin contest.

Alex Goode's try helped Sarries to a 22-3 half-time lead as they dominated every facet of a one-sided 40 minutes.

Leinster roared back through Andrew Porter and Jordan Larmour to reduce the deficit to five points with 18 minutes left, before Goode's last minute penalty sealed a brilliant Sarries win.

Racing 92 await the reigning champions in the last four after they saw off fellow French side Clermont Auvergne in the day's later quarter-final. While for Leinster it is their first defeat in their 24th outing this season.

Outstanding opening half puts Saracens in command

With relegation to the Championship and a minimum two-year European absence coming at the conclusion of the season, Sarries came out of the traps like a side determined to write one final chapter in the story of an immensely successful squad.

The task for the Londoners was to beat a team that had won every one of their games since the two sides last met in the 2019 Champions Cup final.

Goode, operating at fly-half in the absence of the banned Owen Farrell, took advantage of uncharacteristic Leinster indiscipline as the visitors opened up a 9-3 lead inside 11 minutes.

Having utterly dominated the Pro14, Leinster quickly found themselves in a situation they had managed to avoid for the majority of the prolonged 2019-20 campaign.

Itoje
Maro Itoje was the heartbeat of Saracens' outstanding defensive effort

Not only were they behind early, but their spells in possession and attempts to work through the phases into opposition territory were repelled by a ferocious Sarries linespeed led by the unrelenting Maro Itoje.

Saracens were also winning the battle at the set-piece, winning three scrum penalties in the final 10 minutes of the half which laid the platform on which the visitors extended their advantage.

After two long-range Elliot Daly penalties Leinster went to the line-out on Saracens' five metre line, but were turned over as Sarries cleared the danger.

The lead was extended to 19 with three minutes of the first half remaining, as Goode collected Duncan Taylor's wonderful offload before throwing a dummy and sprinting in.

Leinster revival too little, too late

All hopes of a Leinster revival hinged on a second half performance reminiscent of the competition's 2011 final in which the province overturned a 22-6 half-time deficit to lift the trophy.

What appeared unlikely against such an unyielding defence suddenly seemed slightly more conceivable when a pick-and-go from Porter saw Leinster finally cross the whitewash after 49 minutes.

The comeback was well and truly on 13 minutes later when the hosts formed a dummy maul from a lineout only to whip the ball out to the backs, where Jonathan Sexton's early pass saw Larmour slip through the scrambling Saracens line to reduce the arrears to one score.

Leinster
Jordan Larmour scored Leinster's second try as Saracens' lead was cut to five

The stage had been set for a memorable final quarter which, had it followed the dramatic narrative of the game, would have seen Leinster enjoy a prolonged spell of pressure close to the Saracens line.

However, such theatre did not materialise as Saracens wrestled back control with the swagger of a team that has won three of the last four editions of the Champions Cup.

Goode and Daly both missed touchline penalties that would have effectively killed the game going down the stretch, but crucially Leinster were unable to break out of their own half as the clock wound down.

It was only in the last minute that Saracens' victory was assured through Goode's penalty, and it was a win that the holders ultimately deserved having controlled the majority of an excellent contest.

Line-ups

Leinster: Larmour; Keenan, Ringrose, Henshaw, Lowe; Sexton (capt) McGrath; Healy, Cronin, Porter; Toner, Ryan; Doris, Connors, Conan.

Replacements: R Kelleher, E Byrne, Bent, Baird, Van der Flier, Gibson-Park, R Byrne, O'Loughlin.

Saracens: Daly; Lewington, Taylor, Barritt (capt), Maitland; Goode, Wigglesworth; M Vunipola, George, Koch; Itoje, Swinson; Rhodes, Wray, B Vunipola.

Replacements: Woolstencroft, Barrington, Clarey, Hunter-Hill, Clark, Davies, M Vunipola, Morris.

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