The Leinster players must have woken up on Sunday feeling they had been in a multiple pile up on the M1. The ferocity of this Champions Cup final was one for the ages. The sheer explosive power, physicality and energy Saracens bought to the game was in the end just too much for this top quality Leinster side.
It was a game that had me on the edge of my couch almost feeling every titanic hit and wincing at times. People flippantly talk about games as being ‘test match intensity’ but I can tell you this was a test match in all but name. Some Leinster players said it was more physical and demanding than many tests they have played which tells you all you need to know.
How often do games get talked up by over enthusiastic sports commentators and fail to deliver – well this time it was different. Quite rightly billed as the closest matched due to the two teams both being recent winners it was absorbing and enthralling. Yes it was defensive but in matches like this tries are always a rare thing. Many big finals are settled by kicking penalties and indeed last year’s Euro final was tryless. It did not mean that the teams on Saturday did not try to create space to score and we saw some dazzling footwork at times.
Trying to list the key moment in the match would take too long and most have been highlighted well by many newspaper reports. For me as a scrum nerd there was plenty for me to get my teeth into. The loss of one starting prop 30 minutes into the game is a misfortune but both? Could have been a disaster for Saracens especially as it co-ncided with a deserved yellow card for Itoje. Step up unheralded ex Jersey RFC loosehead Richard Barrington and take a bow my son. Going up against the undoubtedly world class Tadagh Furlong and holding your own plus putting in a stormer on the field was just comic book stuff.
In truth if you ask what won it for the Sarries team it came down to the team spirit which meant every one of them never faltered in their work rate or desire. The spirit of the club is epitomised by Mr Concrete himself Brad Barritt who made 28 – yes count them -28 tackles missing none. What a leader and inspiration to his team. Interesting that England do not think there is a gap in the World Cup squad for a hard-running defensive centre with leadership skills…
I know I bang on about it but team, culture whatever you call it – is so vital to success. If it wasn’t then the Barbarians or British & Irish Lions would win every single time they played. Building a club that plays for each other takes a while and this is where Saracens have got lucky in that they had a core of Academy lads all exceptionally talented who grew and developed together over the years and built unshakeable bonds. Their owner Nigel Wray wants his Saracens boys to love each other and the club which is precisely what they do. From their Instagram accounts it appears they have celebrating together nonstop in a rather old school way and I am not sure if even today Alex Goode has changed out of his playing kit!
For Leinster they will know that they could still have won this game and it was the terrible end to the first half that knocked the stuffing out of them. After half time oranges they came out like a freight train indeed playing some unbelievable rugby and upping their physicality. There were a couple of opportunities for them but the small things did not go for them and Saracens went on to take total control. No five stars then for this classy and quality team but they are still European royalty and they will know it took a monumental effort from the Londoners to wrench the crown from their head.
Can’t quite believe we are heading for the final weekend of the Premiership with unbelievably most games with something riding on them. Even though relegation is decided there are still battles for Top 2, Top 4 and Top 6. Both Exeter and Saracens will still not be quite sure who they are facing in the semi final play offs but one thing Exeter know is that they need to win to avoid Gloucester. I see Gloucester as a real threat in these play offs and whether they are at Sandy or Allianz Park they will not be there to make up the numbers. With the Premiership player of the Year Danny Cipriani leading the charge alongside an immense forward pack they will be a challenge. Eddie Jones meanwhile still seems to deem both the Prem Player of the Year and the European Player of the Year surplus to requirements. Funny old game selection.