Leinster brought an end to Saracens’ reign as defending double European champions, denying the English side a hat-trick of Champions Cup titles with a polished performance in Dublin.
A semi-final date against Scarlets back at the Aviva Stadium on the weekend of April 21/22 was secured well before the final whistle thanks to an early try from Garry Ringrose and second-half scores from man of the match Dan Leavy and wing James Lowe, while fly-half Johnny Sexton edged his kicking battle with Saracens’ Owen Farrell.
Both Lions stars were perfect of the tee but Sexton’s three penalties and three conversions delivered 15 points to Farrell’s 11 as the Irish scored another efficient victory over English rivals two weeks after securing a Grand Slam at Twickenham.
Leinster had enjoyed a perfect start thanks to scintillating a fourth-minute break down the left flank, started by wing James Lowe who from the edge of the Leinster 22, skinned his opposing wing Liam Williams and rode a tackle from No.8 Jackson Wray before passing to Isa Nacewa.
The captain continued the charge down the left, drawing last man Alex Goode to create a three-man overlap on his inside, passing to Garry Ringrose who ran in unopposed behind the posts.
The dream start, bolstered by Johnny Sexton’s conversion, was short-lived, however, as Saracens pressurised the Leinster defence, grinding out a couple of close-range penalties which Owen Farrell dispatched on 11 and 16 minutes.
The two British & Irish Lions team-mates then traded penalties but as Sexton ran back after pushing his side 13-9 ahead, he petulantly slapped the ball out of Farrell’s hands and was made to pay when referee Jerome Garces punished the il-discipline, Saracens centre Marcelo Bosch launching a huge penalty kick from the halfway line to draw his side to just a point behind the hosts.
Sarries threatened more as a fractious first half came to an end, Sexton penalised for a ruck infringement and Farrell kicking his forwards into the corner.
The five-metre lineout produced another penalty and a second lineout opportunity but Leinster got themselves off the hook with a maul penalty to bring the opening period to its conclusion, just ahead at 13-12.
— Leinster Rugby (@leinsterrugby) April 1, 2018
If the game had been in the balance before the interval, Leinster made sure the second half was very much a one-sided affair, man of the match Dan Leavy blowing the game open with a 48th-minute try converted by Sexton before Lowe supplied the killer blow 10 minutes later.
Saracens had no answer though they mauled their way to 64th-minute consolation try through replacement flanker Blair Cowan but too many chances went to ground in a sloppy team performance that put paid to hopes of a third successive European title and it is Leinster who are now one game from the final.
Leinster: R Kearney; F McFadden, G Ringrose, I Nacewa (R O’Loughlin, 79), J Lowe; J Sexton (J Carbery, 68), L McGrath (N McCarthy, 65); C Healy (J McGrath, 53), S Cronin (J Tracy, 60), T Furlong (A Porter, 65); D Toner, J Ryan; S Fardy (R Ruddock, 65), D Leavy, J Murphy (M Deegan, 79).
Saracens: A Goode; L Williams, M Bosch, B Barritt, S Maitland; O Farrell, R Wigglesworth; R Barrington, J George, J Figallo; N Isiekwe, G Kruis; Itoje, S Burger, J Wray.
Referee: J Garces (France).