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'They’re big, big men. Very big men' - Saracens' power comes to the fore

Mark McCall’s side came out on top of the collisions against Leinster.

Murray Kinsella reports from St James’ Park

WHEN SARACENS GET on one of their seemingly relentless rolls, it sometimes feels like the opposition can do nothing to stop the onslaught.

Billy Vunipola dents the gainline.

Will Skelton follows up and takes three defenders with him.

Maro Itoje is cueing up for the next thrust. Vincent Koch isn’t far behind. Brad Barritt willingly thunders onto the ball and even the smaller men like Alex Lozowski punch above their weight.

Saracens celebrate in the dressing room after the game Saracens celebrate their win in Newcastle. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

To Leinster’s credit, they often did cling on and repel the Saracens machine – which is skilful and precise and intelligent too – but Mark McCall’s behemoths did enough damage to claim their third European title in Newcastle.

6ft 8ins Skelton has actually lost 21kg over the past 18 months but he’s still a 120kg beast. 

Vunipola carried four Leinster players over the tryline with him in the process of dotting down in the 67th minute. Four good defenders at that.

Rhys Ruddock, relatively fresh, couldn’t slow the Saracens number eight, while Johnny Sexton, James Lowe and Luke McGrath were unable to get a good shot on either. 

Vunipola reached his right hand out to finish in an almost nonchalant fashion.

“They’re big, big men. Very big men,” said Leinster head coach Leo Cullen after his team’s 20-10 defeat in the Champions Cup final.

“You stand out in the tunnel there and you see the size of Billy Vunipola, Maro Itoje and Will Skelton in particular, and we don’t have access to that type of player.”

Cullen laughed at this point. And the sheer power of this Saracens team is almost comical.

“They wore us down for sure,” continued Cullen. “We’ve seen it a lot, where Saracens just get their noses in front, play pressure, pressure, pressure, pin us down, and they just squeeze the life out of teams.

Billy Vunipola and Mako Vunipola celebrate after the game with their family The Vunipola brothers with family after their win. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“For us, I thought our guys fronted up unbelievable well, stuck in so many collisions, were dominant in a lot of collisions, particularly early in the game with some of those big men running at them. But it does take its toll for sure.

“I thought the Saracens bench came on and did well. I thought Vincent Koch, in particular, provided a lot of energy considering he was on after 30 minutes. I thought he carried very, very strongly.

“Their scrum was good as well; they probably just had the upper hand on us in the last 20 minutes whereas probably in the first half I thought we had a little bit of dominance.

“It’s such fine margins in these games. Saracens were the better team on the day.”

It was a thrilling contest to decide the European season, with Leinster more than playing their part.

Indeed, it was akin to an international game and Leinster’s players felt as much.

“It was ferocious,” said Johnny Sexton. “It was Test match stuff. We knew it was going to be.

“The one thing I will say is I’m incredibly proud of everyone, the way we fronted up and never took a backwards step. There were times when we weren’t missing any tackles and we were conceding maybe half a yard, then half a yard and they’re very good at what they do. They try and steamroll and at times they did that very well.

“It’s a big regret. You’d love to go and play the match again. You don’t want to have any regrets and we’ll look back at some key moments, especially the start of the second half where I just felt we had the upper hand and we didn’t quite capitalise on it.”

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Murray Kinsella

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