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McCall: Ireland's Grand Slam success a factor in Leinster's big win

Saracens rued their missed opportunities at the Aviva Stadium, but admit Leinster were full value for their 30-19 victory.

Maro Itoje and Owen Farrell at full-time.
Maro Itoje and Owen Farrell at full-time.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Ryan Bailey reports from the Aviva Stadium

A DISAPPOINTING RETURN to Dublin for Saracens, as the back-to-back champions relinquished the crown they worked so hard to win, but it was always going to be a big ask for Mark McCall’s side to outgun Leinster having stuttered their way through the pool stages.

The Premiership side were left to rue their inability to capitalise on sustained possession and territory in the first half as Leinster upped the intensity in the third quarter to pull clear and end Saracens’ two-year reign as European champions.

McCall accepted that the better side won on the day, labelling Leinster as ‘outstanding’, while also suggesting that the effect of Ireland’s Six Nations Grand Slam could have also contributed to this quarter-final result.

“It’s probably going to have some sort of effect, you would have thought,” he said post-match.

“We have had the luxury of having our players come back from the last two seasons, having won a Grand Slam, and having won a Championship, and coming back into European quarter-finals and being in great form — physically and emotionally. I’m sure Leinster benefitted from that as well.”

While Leinster emerged as convincing winners, largely thanks to a ruthless 20-minute spell after half-time during which the hosts scored 17 points, the contest was on a knife-edge at the break.

Despite conceding an early try during a sluggish start, Saracens had showed all their credentials by regaining a foothold in the contest through the boot of Owen Farrell, trailing by a single point when the sides headed for the sheds.

But Leinster had been able to weather the storm, producing a big defensive effort led by the likes of Dan Leavy and Cian Healy, to keep Saracens at bay and then show a clinical edge at the other end through man of the match Leavy and then James Lowe.

Mark McCall during the post match press conference Mark McCall speaking post-match. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

McCall, the former Ulster coach, was full of praise for Leinster, who will now go on to face Scarlets in the semi-finals.

“Obviously we are disappointed,” he continued. “The first half, I felt it was an even game. We responded very well to the bad start that we had, which was the first try.

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“We had a little chance just before half time when it was a one-point game and didn’t convert that. We started the second half poorly. We gave away 10 points in the first five or six minutes.

“I just felt it was the kinda game where… it’s tough to chase down a team like Leinster with a 10-point lead. We tried very hard to.

“We’re a little bit disappointed that their two tries that they scored weren’t as a result of relentless pressure and us being under the pump. I felt that they were tries that we could have avoided.

“We had a lot of possession of the ball ourselves, and in fairness to Leinster, they defended superbly all day.”

McCall added: “I think Leinster are outstanding. They were the best team in the pool stages. When we analysed them, there were not many weaknesses to find.

Brad Barritt dejected Barritt dejected at full-time. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“They were good today. They had to defend for a long time and they did it really well. They’ve got some people on their team who can really hurt you on attack as well, so they are a very good, all-round team.”

Saracens captain Brad Barritt agreed Leinster were full value for their win.

“Huge congratulations to Leinster,” the centre added. “As a playing group, we felt they were better on the day and were full quality for their victory today.

“They are a very good team. I think in terms of the level that was played at today we’ve all suggested that it was something a little more than what we’ve had this season.

“You never want to make predictions but I thought they were full of quality and they backed up what they did in the pool stages, so a very, very good team.”

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Ryan Bailey

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