Former Ireland, Munster and Leinster flyhalf Tony Ward has said he ‘hates everything Saracens stand for’ whilst admitting begrudging respect for their intensity.
Saracens completed a weekend raid on Dublin that left the PRO14 Champions humbled on their own doorstep. Leinster hadn’t lost in 25 games, their previous defeat coming against the same opposition in last season’s Heineken Champions Cup.
It’s two on the bounce against Leinster for McCall’s men in what has become European rugby’s showpiece club rivalry. Yet it felt like more than that. Saracens, who are languishing at the bottom of the Gallagher Premiership thanks to a 105 point reduction for breaches of the salary cap, have been cast as the villains of world rugby.
Leo Cullen’s men did not face a team in any kind of malaise on the playing field. Saracens were a team united and galvanized by their first ‘meaningful’ rugby match in months. They won the collisions, won the breakdowns, and barring a second-half purple patch for the home side, dominated nearly all facets of the game.
The scoreline read 25 – 17 at the final whistle, but it flattered Leinster. Head coach Cullen admitted that the PRO14 champions just couldn’t deal with Saracens ‘mentality’ and the pressure cooker defensive strategy that lead to four unanswered penalties in the first half.
“They’re all things we were aware of coming into the match but we couldn’t quite deal with it.”
Writing in his Irish Independent column, Ward said that while he couldn’t abide the men in black and red, they clearly bullied Leinster, both mentally and physically.
“I hate almost everything that Saracens (and by extension Toulon) stand for, yet in pure rugby-playing terms, what we witnessed in the Aviva was a Saracens squad united in a common cause where the desire to win outdid every other factor.
“In any sport – professional or amateur – it is the most important element that cannot be coached. It is a desire stirred from within.”
“A potentially great Leinster squad, one with the already proven potential to become our greatest provincial unit ever, didn’t become a bad one and lose that lustre on Saturday.
“Sadly, there are some who purport to follow Irish rugby who would wish that such were the case.”
“Leinster, and by extension Irish rugby, took a physical and psychological battering on home soil against one of the English Premiership’s big two. Anyone wanting to deny that fact is delusional in the extreme.”
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