English side lift European Champions Cup trophy for a third time

Saracens beat Leinster to be crowned European champions

The adage goes that defence wins championships and so it proved in the European Champions Cup final at St James’ Park.

The two outstanding teams in Europe went head-to-head at the home of Newcastle United and it was Saracens who came out on top, beating Leinster 20-10. The key to the victory? Their famous defence.

The Irish province simply couldn’t find a way through. They had plenty of possession, particularly in the first half, but couldn’t make the necessary territory gains.

In fact, Saracens’ defensive line moved at such speed that they often drove Leinster back across the gain-line and the Irish province couldn’t make yards or build momentum.

Leading the defence: Garry Ringrose is closed down by Brad Barritt (Getty Images)

Leading the defence: Garry Ringrose is closed down by Brad Barritt (Getty Images)

The last five minutes were a case in point as Leinster struggled to escape their own 22 when they needed two scores to have a chance of winning. Brad Barritt in midfield led that defensive shift and was a deserving Man of the Match.

The one time Leinster did break that Saracens defence came after half an hour. Rob Kearney caused those defenders to flounder – a rare occurrence – when he cut a decent angle inside in the 28th minute before being brought down just a couple of metres out.

Saracens beat Leinster to be crowned European champions

Acute angle: Rob Kearney cuts inside the Saracens defence (Getty Images)

A few phases later it looked like Leinster may finally have scored and the TMO was called upon. The ball was held up but with Maro Itoje then sent to the sin-bin for two offside offences and two new props on the field for Saracens due to injuries, Leinster opted for a scrum from the resulting penalty and Tadhg Furlong squeezed over after a Jack Conan burst.

Saracens’ powerful defence helped to deliver their first points late in the second half. Two huge tackles led to a penalty – first Alex Lozowski on Jack Conan and then George Kruis on Johnny Sexton – and Owen Farrell put the ball through the posts.

Then came the converted try once the clock had ticked past 40 that drew the scores level at 10-10. Saracens used a penalty to set up a lineout in Leinster’s 22 and after using their big carriers to take play close to the line, drawing in numerous defenders, Farrell flicked on a pass to Sean Maitland on the wing for an easy run-in.

Saracens beat Leinster to be crowned European champions

Line time: Sean Maitland touches down for Saracens’ first try (Getty Images)

It was nip-tuck for the first half of the second period before Jackson Wray burst into open space and Saracens worked their way close to the Leinster line. Similar to the first half, the TMO was called in, there was no clear grounding and Scott Fardy was sent to the sin-bin. Sarries opted for the posts to secure a narrow lead.

Saracens beat Leinster to be crowned European champions

In reach: Billy Vunipola stretches out to score for Saracens (Getty Images)

They capitalised on their numerical advantage a few minutes later too. Getting close to the line again and putting pressure on Leinster from a series of five-metre scrums before Billy Vunipola surged from the back then stretched over to touch the ball down under the posts.

At 20-10, it was advantage Saracens – and they held on for victory.

To add a cherry to the icing on the Saracens cake, full-back Alex Goode was then named European Player of the Year.

Leinster – Try: Furlong. Con: Sexton. Pen: Sexton.

Saracens – Tries: Maitland, B Vunipola. Cons: Farrell 2. Pens: Farrell 2.

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