Saracens and Leinster players compare physicality in Newcastle to international rugby
European Champions Cup final likened to Test match
After Saracens had beaten Leinster 20-10 to win this year’s European Champions Cup, players described the match as “Test-match quality”.
It was a hugely physical match at St James’ Park in Newcastle and Saracens’ dominance of the tight exchanges drew comparison with England’s Six Nations win over Ireland in Dublin.
“They’re two extremely physical games,” said Saracens fly-half Owen Farrell. “They were probably played in a different way but the main comparison I’d say is you definitely feel it after the game. You know you’ve been in a tough game and this was a Test match-like game.”
There were more than 400 tackles made in the game, Man of the Match Brad Barritt topping the charts with 28 and his Saracens team-mate George Kruis not far behind on 27. Even Maro Itoje, who spent ten minutes in the sin-bin, put in 23 tackles.
It was that defensive effort that limited Leinster to just two line breaks. And it wasn’t just the big men who defended so resolutely. When Leinster were attacking early in the second half, Liam Williams rushed out of the defensive line to close down Garry Ringrose and win a turnover.
That moment was one of many that demonstrated the intensity of both teams. The Leinster contingent agreed with the assessment of the match as international quality.
“It was ferocious Test-match stuff,” said Leinster fly-half Johnny Sexton. “We knew it would be. And one thing I’d say is I’m unbelievably proud. We never took a backward step. There were times we weren’t missing any tackles but they’d make half a yard.
“They’re very good at what they do and try to steamroller you and at times they did that very well.”
Leo Cullen pointed to the sheer size of the Saracens team and the inevitable impact that makes in a rugby match.
Leinster’s director of rugby said: “They’re big, big men. Standing down in the tunnel, you see the size of Billy Vunipola, Maro Itoje and Will Skelton in particular. We don’t have access to many of that type of player and they wore us down for sure.
“They squeezed the life out of us at times. They’re very comfortable defending and putting the squeeze on teams. They did that really well and strangled us in the last 20 minutes.”
As well as hailing Barritt’s influence in defence, Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall paid tribute to replacement props Richard Barrington and Vincent Koch. The pair came on for the injured Mako Vunipola and Titi Lamositele after half an hour and impressed at the scrummage while Koch was a rampaging force in the loose.
McCall said: “Richard Barrington was superb and is a really important player for the club, on the field and off the field. The way he played was fantastic and Vincent Koch produced his best game of the season.”
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Saracens already have this trophy in their cabinet but there is more silverware up for grabs this season for both the English side and Leinster in terms of the Gallagher Premiership and Guinness Pro12 respectively.
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