Ali Stokes reports on how Saracens saw off Munster to reach European finale in Newcastle
‘Relentless’ Saracens through to another Champions Cup final
Under the scorching sun of an early summer day in the Midlands and in the wake of a difficult week following the uproar caused by Billy Vunipola’s Instagram post defending the comments of Israel Folau, Saracens qualified for a fourth European Champions Cup final in six years by beating Munster 32-16 at the Ricoh Arena.
Following the now familiar sight of yet another classic Saracens victory in the knockout stages of Europe, Mark McCall was quick to praise the intensity and mentality of his charges.
“I thought we played really well,” said the Sarries director of rugby. “Although the scoreboard said 12-9 at half-time, it didn’t feel like that. The thing that pleased me most was that the players understood that the scoreboard did not necessarily reflect how well we had played and what we were building towards.
“I was just really pleased with our intensity, which was relentless the whole game, and the control we had emotionally as well.”
Any suggestion of Vunipola feeling the pressure was quickly dispelled. The England No 8 was at the forefront of Saracens’ trademark power game, claiming the final try of the day in the 72nd minute and being named Man of the Match.
McCall said: “Billy was outstanding, so were all of his team-mates to be honest. We got all the big parts of our game right today and a great team effort.
“As a group we were determined not to let this week pass us by because we work incredibly hard to be involved in weeks like this one, games like this one. And we ended up having a brilliant week and you can see that in the performance.”
Commenting on the social media post that led to Vunipola being booed throughout the match and being confronted by a Munster fan afterwards, McCall said: “The club dealt with it, it’s been dealt with, it was dealt with decisively, it was dealt with quickly and it was dealt with, in my opinion, fairly.”
At the heart of Saracens’ winning performance in the Midlands was academy product and England scrum-half Ben Spencer, who started ahead of the most-capped Premiership player in history, Richard Wigglesworth.
“Ben’s had a great season this year, he’s started probably more European Cup games this year than any other season,” McCall said. “Obviously we have two great scrum-halves in Wiggy as well.
“He’s (Wigglesworth) had a tough time with an injury, he’s done one training session in the last eight weeks I think it is, one rugby session. So it’s good to have him back today and have his experience on the bench.
“But Ben is playing really well, he had a great game against Glasgow in the quarter-final, and equally he played really well today.”
After finishing just three points ahead of Munster at half-time, Saracens got off to a fast start in the second half, with blindside flanker Michael Rhodes touching down for the first try in the 44th minute. That score, and three subsequent penalties from Owen Farrell, turned the screw on Johann van Graan’s men.
Munster captain Peter O’Mahony said: “We played rugby in areas we probably didn’t plan in doing so as a result of being down by that much.
“With their defence, the way they go after teams, particularly in their own half, it makes it that little bit more difficult when you are trying things that if we were closer or ahead we probably wouldn’t be doing. When you make mistakes in that area or concede penalties, you’re conceding three points.”
Munster’s thoughts now turn to focus purely on domestic action in the Guinness Pro14 while Saracens are still competing on two fronts.
Who they will play in Champions Cup final at St James’ Park on 11 May will be decided later today, when reigning champions Leinster host resurgent French giants Toulouse. If Saracens v Munster was an arm-wrestle, Leinster v Toulouse is likely to be a 100m race.
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