Sarries turn the screw at the moments that matter

Saracens' Alex Goode and Jackson Wray celebrate at the final whistle. Credit ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Leinster 10 - 20 Saracens

St James' Park

Nothing has typified the indomitable will of both Leinster and Ireland in recent years so much as their habit of sticking the knife into opponents in the moments and minutes approaching half-time.

Scores at that juncture tend to carry a worth far in excess of the numbers printed on the bill, the timing of such strikes landing like a pugilist's blow to the solar plexus and worming their way into the consciousness of the victim as they take their pause. This time it was Leinster suffering that fate.

It took the reigning champions 32 minutes to fashion a 10-0 lead in a Heineken Champions Cup final that was exhausting even from the remove of the Milburn Stand and in and around eight minutes to lose it. They'll mull over how that happened for a long, long time.

It started with two crumpling tackles by Alex Lozowski and George Kruis on Jack Conan and Jonathan Sexton. These were moments of significance in and of themselves given the context.

Leinster found it much more difficult to make yards in attack against a superbly structured and committed Saracens defence, but they had possession and territory and momentum on their side as the half-hour passed.

Saracens had already replaced both of their props by then and Maro Itoje was in the sin bin, but those tackles sparked a reversal in fortunes that would turn the game back in favour of the team in red.

An Owen Farrell penalty was the initial reward and, with Itoje back from the naughty step, Sarries struck with a devastating attacking punch by their grunts before wing Sean Maitland was played in close to the corner with two brilliant, snappy passes.

The look on the faces of Jonathan Sexton and Sean O'Brien as they sloped off could have curdled milk, but what really soured was the decision to execute a box kick as the clock turned red rather than look for touch.

It was Luke McGrath's boot that launched the ball but there was a collective ownership accepted for the decision after the final whistle by a Leinster side that paid on this occasion for their aggression.

"We conceded just before half-time which was a killer moment," Sexton explained to Virgin Media afterwards. “We made a ballsy enough play. At a ruck, we could have put it dead and kicked it out. We were thinking, 'lets put pressure on them and get another score.'

Like I say, you can never sit back and we've got a chance to put it up and win it in the air.

"We didn't take it and they scored just before half-time. But it's not the game, we had lots of chances in the second half. That's the way I saw it anyway.”

Leinster's start to the second-half was massively encouraging but their ten minutes of dominance in that stint failed to produce the score they needed with Sean O'Brien and Garry Ringrose were both turned over in the Saracens 22.

And for Ringrose there will be the extra disappointment of failing to spot an overlap.

These moments might not have mattered on another day against another team but the cost factor became more and more obvious as the second period wore on and Saracens applied a vice-like grip on proceedings.

Leinster failed to score for the last 48 minutes here. When it mattered most, a team famed for its killer instinct failed to get it done. Hats off to Saracens for that.

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