Skelton's Saracens regain European crown

by AFP

Wallabies lock Will Skelton has helped Saracens claim their third European Champions Cup title in four seasons after beating fellow Australian second-rower Scott Fardy's Leinster 20-10 in Newcastle.

Former Waratahs forward Skelton turned his back on a crack at this year's Rugby World Cup in order to sign a new two-year deal with the English powerhouse club, despite late efforts at persuasion from Wallabies coach Michael Cheika.

And Skelton's Saracens side were forced to do it the hard way as they surged back from 10-0 down to overwhelm their Irish opponents in a ferocious final at Newcastle United's St James' Park ground.

Leinster stormed into the lead with a try from prop Tadhg Furlong with skipper Johnny Sexton adding a conversion and penalty only for Saracens to battle back with a brilliantly-created Sean Maitland try to make it 10-10 just before the break.

Both sides defended ferociously in a brutal third quarter but Sarries took advantage of a yellow card awarded against former Wallabies and Brumbies second-rower Fardy for offside as another Owen Farrell penalty and a Billy Vunipola try settled it.

Saracens celebrate returning to the top of European rugby. Photo: AFPSaracens and England No.8 Vunipola, who was booed when he touched the ball during his team's semi-final victory over Munster, again received jeers on Saturday.

The forward has been handed formal warnings from his club and the English Rugby Football Union after he posted on social media that "man was made for woman to procreate that was the goal no?" and also liked Israel Folau's social post that said "hell awaits" homosexuals.

The match result meant Saracens have won every game of their European campaign - only the third time that has been achieved after their own run in 2016 and Leinster's last season.

"It's a great victory. This is a group that have been through a lot -- good and bad -- and they want to work hard for each other," said Saracens coach Mark McCall.

"We were 10-0 down against a quality team so this is a massive win."

Leinster skipper and flyhalf star Johnny Sexton admitted it was a game of small margins.

"We had a couple of chances," he said.

"It's always the way when you lose you look back on little things. I felt a few little decisions didn't go our way."

Reigning champions Leinster were left heartbroken after the Champions Cup final. Photo: AFPDespite the contest being played on English soil, Leinster's huge band of followers turned St James' Park into a deafening home from home.

The travelling Dubliners saw their beloved team take a third minute lead, Sexton nailing his first penalty after the Saracens defence had strayed offside.

Saracens got within touching distance of the Leinster tryline with a 19th minute attack from the back of a scrum by Brad Barritt and Vunipola but Barritt, their inside centre and captain, was penalised for using his shoulder in an attempted clear out directly in front of the posts.

It took a brilliant break by Rob Kearney to open some daylight. Stepping off one foot, then the other, the 2012 European player of the year made 20 metres and had Saracens desperately scrambling.

Leinster's Kiwi wing James Lowe was thwarted by a superbly-timed tackle by Liam Williams in the left corner, then prop Cian Healy almost burrowed over in front of the posts, referee Jerome Garces consulting video evidence on.

The French official sent Saracens lock turned blindside flanker Maro Itoje to the sin bin for a third offside offence and, though the London side brought on fresh props in Richard Barrington and Vincent Koch, they were unable to hold out from the five-metre scrum that followed.

Just when the odds looked stacked against Saracens, though, they stepped up to the challenge.

Farrell landed a 39th minute penalty, then kicked for the corner in first-half overtime, prompting a drive from a line-out on the left that ended with Farrell outfoxing the Leinster defence with a quick flicked pass out to Maitland, who burst over the line from 5m out.

Farrell made no mistake with the conversion, leaving it all square at 10-10 at the interval.

Saracens then edged in front, Farrell kicking a 58th minute penalty.

In the end, it was Leinster who suffered the game's knockout blow, Vunipola taking the ball from the base of a scrum and holding off three defenders to claim the decisive score.


Leinster 10

Tries: Furlong

Cons: Sexton

Pens: Sexton

Saracens 20

Tries: Maitland, B Vunipola

Cons: Farrell 2

Pens: Farrell 2