FOR MOST sides, defeating a team of Leinster’s undoubted pedigree and in such a remarkable manner would be the zenith.
However, it is abundantly clear Saracens are not most sides.
Far from it. Jamie George described Saturday’s epic Championship Cup final win over the Irish province as the “best feeling I have ever had on a rugby field”.
That is quite an endorsement given he starred in a famous British Lions victory over the All Blacks and tasted an England Grand Slam in the Six Nations.
Club rugby should not really even be on a par, but when played at the elevated standards on show in Newcastle – holders Leinster and Sarries relentlessly hammering away – it felt just as intense as any Test match. For all of the merited highs, though, Saracens, who came from 10-0 behind to become the first English club to win three Champions Cups, will not rest here.
Yes, they have won a third European final in just four years, but they want another double just like they achieved in 2016.
The last time they had the chance, two years ago, director of rugby Mark McCall conceded they “partied too hard” after their European success against Clermont, losing in the last minute to Exeter Chiefs in their Premiership semi-final a week later.
They have a fortnight to prepare this time and, as much as the Heineken will have run dry in the Toon on Saturday, he knows they have “no excuses”.
Granted, Saracens would have had a perfect excuse to lose against this star-studded Leinster – aiming to be the first team to win five European Cups – when they trailed 10-0 just after the half-hour mark.
Props Mako Vunipola and Titi Lamositele had both limped off moments earlier while Maro Itoje, the irrepressible Lions flanker, had been sent off for 10 minutes for persistent infringing. Yet by half-time they were level – Sean Maitland’s try with the last play cancelling out Tadhg Furlong’s opener – and the second period saw Sarries rise to another level.
This group of players can see things for what they are and not get spooked by the scoreboard or something unavoidable we couldn’t prevent.Mark McCall
“This group of players can see things for what they are and not get spooked by the scoreboard or something unavoidable we couldn’t prevent,” said McCall.
“They’re brilliant at assessing what is really happening. They don’t see ghosts. When you’ve got that clarity you’re able to find solutions to anything.”
George put it another way. Questioned if anything was said when those three players departed, he replied: “Owen (Farrell) said, ‘Right, what are we going to do about this? We can either mope for 10 minutes and cling on, or take it to them. You choose’.
“We chose to take it to them.”
It was almost a rhetorical question; Farrell, the unswerving, bloody-minded England fly-half whose battle with Ireland and Lions star Johnny Sexton was one of numerous fascinating match-ups, did not really give his team-mates any option at all.
His second penalty nudged them ahead and, by the time the brilliant Billy Vunipola picked up from the back of a scrum and stormed over in the 67th minute while Scott Fardy was in the sin-bin, the writing was on the wall for Leinster who found themselves suffocated out of the game. England No 8 Vunipola had come up with two crucial intercepts as well as he ended a difficult month in style.
He had been given a formal warning by his club and the RFU after ‘liking’ a controversial social media post by Wallabies star Israel Folau about homosexuality.
Vunipola conceded: “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t reading things that have been said. But I am just grateful to be in this team, and that is my job now – to put the team first. The intercepts were fun because he (Luke McGrath) kept doing the passes. I enjoyed them more than the try. I am going to see my mum, give her a big hug and see where we go from there.” Saracens are only going one way; hurtling towards establishing themselves as one of the greatest club sides ever.
Leinster: Kearney; Larmour, Ringrose, Henshaw, Lowe; Sexton, McGrath; Healy (McGrath 63), Cronin (Tracy 51), Furlong (Bent 70), Toner (Deegan 74), Ryan, Fardy, O’Brien (Ruddock 63), Conan.
Saracens: Goode; Williams, Lozowski, Barritt, Maitland; Farrell, Spencer (Wigglesworth 56); M Vunipola (Barrington 30), George, Lamositele (Koch 30), Skelton, Kruis, Itoje, Wray, B Vunipola (Burger 74).
Referee: Jerome Garces (France).