Leinster 10-20 Saracens: Reigning Premiership champions clinch Champions Cup in Newcastle
By Michael Cantillon at St James' Park
Last Updated: 12/05/19 8:02am
Billy Vunipola and Sean Maitland tries saw Saracens clinch the third European Cup title in their history on Saturday, courtesy of a 20-10 victory over defending champions Leinster at a packed St James' Park.
Played in a crackling atmosphere and at a rip-roaring pace, the final saw Leinster go into a 10-0 first-half lead via the boot of Johnny Sexton and a try from tighthead prop Tadhg Furlong.
Crucially, an Owen Farrell penalty and Maitland try for Saracens - both within the final two minutes of the first half - left the game level at the break.
From there, Saracens pushed on in the second half, punishing Leinster with 10 more points while flanker Scott Fardy was in the sin-bin.
Unlike Saracens in the first half, the Irish province could not recover, with the Premiership side left to toast a third title, and in doing so marking themselves out as the most successful English club side in history.
The first points of the final arrived after Leinster's very first attack in the opening minutes when the Saracens defence was caught offside off a Leinster lineout on halfway, and Sexton bisected the posts from just shy of 40 metres out.
Saracens started to dictate territory and possession thereafter, but all the pressure they had built up was ended on 20 minutes when skipper Brad Barritt was penalised for a needless shoulder charge deep in the Leinster 22.
The first half was then turned on its head courtesy of a wonderful arching run from Leinster full-back Rob Kearney, who sliced through the Saracens line and put the Irish province within scoring range.
The TMO was called upon to review whether loosehead prop Cian Healy had scored a try shortly afterwards, but replays proved the grounding was inconclusive, with George Kruis seemingly having held the ball up.
If Saracens were relieved to have avoided the concession of a try though, things were to get worse immediately when Maro Itoje was sin-binned for repeated team infringements and the reigning Premiership champions lost both starting props Titi Lamositele and Mako Vunipola to injury at the exact same moment in the final - an extraordinary stroke of bad fortune.
Leinster backed themselves with a five-metre scrum straight after, and within minutes prop Furlong was over for the game's first try when he displayed superb upper-body strength to stretch and barge over. Sexton's conversion gave Leinster a commanding 10-0 lead.
Saracens did ensure they would head in at half-time with some points when a breakdown penalty was won by Vincent Koch after a crunching Kruis tackle on Sexton, and consequently dispatched by Farrell midway into the Leinster half for 10-3.
In the very final play of the half, things got even better for Mark McCall's team.
A penalty awarded on Saracens' own 10-metre line after Kearney got trapped in a ruck allowed Farrell to kick up to within the Leinster 22, and from there, Sarries battered at the Leinster line centrally, sucking in the Irish province's defence, allowing Maitland a simple finish down the left when the ball was sprung wide.
Farrell's exquisite conversion from out wide left the scores level - something which seemed utterly unfeasible moments earlier.
An immense piece of defensive play from Saracens wing Liam Williams kept Leinster from scoring what looked a certain try eight minutes into the second period, as he ran up to shut down space, before turning the ball over on the ground.
A Jackson Wray break, followed by powerful Billy Vunipola and Koch carries put Saracens on top of the Leinster line before the hour mark, but though Richard Barrington had looked to have grounded the ball on the base of the post from close range, referee Jerome Garces did not award the try.
Rather, the French official gave Saracens a penalty and sin-binned Leinster blindside Scott Fardy. Saracens and Farrell consequently decided to take the points for a 13-10 lead.
Five minutes later, Saracens won a scrum penalty in the exact same position on the pitch, and this time chose to go for another scrum rather than take the points.
It proved exactly the right decision when Vunipola picked up at the base and charged over past four Leinster bodies to reach out and ground under the posts for a stunning try.
Leinster - in search of a record fifth European Cup crown - could not do as Saracens had for the remaining time and turn around a 10-point deficit - Saracens demonstrating their oppressive and suffocating defence in spades before celebrating glory.