Director of rugby Mark McCall heaped praise on his Saracens squad after they advanced to the semi-finals of the Heineken Champions Cup with a superb 25-17 victory over Leinster at the Aviva Stadium.
The defending champions laid the foundations for their against-the-odds triumph with a dominant first-half display.
Standing in for the suspended Owen Farrell at fly-half, Alex Goode contributed 16 points, including a sharply-finished 36th-minute try, to propel Sarries into a 22-3 half-time lead.
“This group of players never cease to amaze us,” admitted McCall afterwards. “Given everything that has happened this year, to produce a performance of that kind of quality, and that kind of unity, says a lot about them really.
“We came up with a very experienced team, a team who have been through a hell of a lot together the last four or five seasons. The ups and downs of this competition. I think you saw all of the solidarity that they possess out there.
“The first half we played brilliantly. We put Leinster under the kind of pressure that we hoped we could put them under, but you’ve got to go out and do it. The players were so engaged and so alive to everything.”
Leinster, who retained their Guinness PRO14 title at the same venue a week ago, fought back with converted tries from Andrew Porter and Jordan Larmour, before a last-minute Goode penalty ended the Irish province’s 25-match winning streak and sealed a semi-final trip to France – against Clermont Auvergne or Racing 92 – for McCall’s men.
There were elements of the Saracens play in the second half that McCall found every bit as pleasing as the first, with the visitors pummelling the Leinster scrum for seven penalties in all.
“The (Leinster) onslaught started in the second half and we were probably guilty of being a little bit passive in hanging onto our lead,” the former Ireland international added.
“But there were some defensive sets in the second half against a high-class team which were out of this world and showed everything that we hope we’re about.
“I thought our scrum was unbelievable really, given that Mako (Vunipola) hasn’t played a game since the first game after lockdown. To come and scrummage the way he scrummaged, and the way Vincent Koch scrummaged, was incredible.”
Meanwhile, having been hotly-tipped to overcome Saracens at the quarter-final stage for the second time in three years, this defeat comes as a major disappointment for Leinster.
Right from the word go, head coach Leo Cullen felt his side struggled to get to the pitch of the game.
“I just thought we got a little bit spooked pretty much from the kick-off,” he said. “We don’t quite deal with it and Saracens score. We played right into their hands in many ways.
“It comes back to that mentality that we know they have – three, six, nine, 12 (points). We handed them those opportunities.
“They’re all things we were aware of coming into the match but we couldn’t quite deal with it.”
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