Saracens 32-16 Munster: Premiership side book Champions Cup final place
Saracens to face Leinster in the Champions Cup final in Newcastle on May 11
By Michael Cantillon at the Ricoh Arena
Last Updated: 21/04/19 5:15pm
Saracens ensured they will contest a third European Cup final in four seasons on Saturday as they proved too powerful for twice-winners Munster with a 32-16 semi-final win at a sun-kissed Ricoh Arena in Coventry.
Having dominated the ball for the majority of the first period, Saracens had just a three-point lead at the break to show for their efforts, courtesy of the boot of Owen Farrell.
But in the second half, the reigning Premiership champions proved far more clinical, as tries from Michael Rhodes and Billy Vunipola - sandwiched by a Darren Sweetnam effort for Munster - saw them pull away.
Saracens will now either face defending champions Leinster or Top 14 outfit Toulouse in the final at St James' Park in Newcastle on May 11 - the second semi-final taking place on Sunday at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.
Less than a minute into the semi-final, Saracens were awarded their first penalty when Munster's CJ Stander failed to roll away. Out-half Farrell stepped up from just shy of 40 metres to split the uprights for the lead.
Munster responded well to the early set-back, though, and levelled things on nine minutes, when prop Mako Vunipola was pinged for going off feet at the breakdown and Tyler Bleyendaal stepped up to make it 3-3.
Stander produced a huge defensive turnover in his own 22 on 15 minutes as, with Saracens seemingly breaking the line at will and the Munster defence becoming increasingly stressed, the No 8 came up with a crucial jackal intervention.
Three minutes later, Farrell edged Saracens back in front when Liam Williams won a breakdown turnover after the England playmaker had smashed Munster full-back Mike Haley after he had taken a high ball.
Relentless Saracens pressure in the Munster third of the pitch brought three more points after 26 minutes when the Irish province were caught offside - and though Munster were just about holding the Premiership champions out from their tryline, they were still conceding points.
Bleyendaal kicked Munster back to within three when Maro Itoje went off feet in his own 22, and three minutes from the end of the first period Conor Murray levelled the tie with a huge penalty from just inside the Saracens half after the English side were penalised for offside.
Saracens would head into half-time with a slender 12-9 lead, however, when Farrell kicked a penalty with the final act of the half after Munster skipper Peter O'Mahony was penalised for an intentional knock on.
The next score was always likely to be significant, and Saracens' Rhodes notched it just four minutes into the second half when, after over 20 phases of possession, the Premiership side broke down the left before the flanker picked the right line to saunter over. Farrell's conversion gave Saracens a 10-point lead.
A scrum penalty on the Munster 40-metre line just moments later handed Saracens a chance to extend the lead, and Farrell duly obliged to keep up his impressive form off the tee, leaving Munster 13 points behind.
When Farrell kicked his fifth penalty of the afternoon on 53 minutes from close range after Munster infringed at the ruck, Saracens had registered 13 points in as many minutes - more than either side had scored in the entirety of the first half, leaving Munster the proverbial mountain to climb.
Against a defence and line-speed as sharp as Saracens', it never looked likely.
Munster centre Chris Farrell was held up short of the tryline on the hour mark as the province probed, and when the visitors turned over a scrum and sprung the ball wide, Sweetnam notched their first try. JJ Hanrahan's superb conversion from wide out left Munster nine points behind.
Billy Vunipola made sure Saracens would seal a place in this year's final at St James' Park though, when he barrelled over from close range with seven minutes left after a wonderful Williams high take had given Sarries impetus.
Having lifted the trophy in 2016 and 2017, Saracens now go in search of their third European crown. Munster, by contrast, must digest a seventh European semi-final loss in a row.