Billy Vunipola magic sees Saracens to Champions Cup glory

England’s Billy Vunipola 16/3/2019
A trademark effort from England behemoth Billy Vunipola was the difference as Saracens overcame Leinster 20-10 to taste Champions Cup glory.

A trademark effort from England behemoth Billy Vunipola was the difference as Saracens overcame Leinster 20-10 to taste Champions Cup glory.

Ireland’s Tadhg Furlong had helped holders Leinster assume a commanding 10-3 lead, only to see Red Rose captain Owen Farrell mastermind a spirited Saracens comeback.

The fly-half’s deft pass set Scotland’s Sean Maitland clear to make it honours even at half-time and with momentum on their side after the break, Vunipola crashed his way through to decide a breathless encounter.

In a frantic opening, it was holders Leinster that drew first blood, Johnny Sexton, a Guinness Six Nations Grand Slam winner with Ireland in 2018, slotting a penalty after the Saracens line had strayed offside.

Neither side had ceded an inch during an intense opening half-hour, with the battle for the gainline particularly competitive.

But it was the Irish team who were making the most of the few chances that arose, twice being held up close to the opposition line before Maro Itoje was sent to the bin for a series of offsides.

For the first time, small pockets of space were appearing in the Saracens line, and Leinster took full advantage on 32 minutes as Ireland prop Furlong burrowed his way over following a spell of sustained pressure.

Still, the 14 men of Saracens refused to wilt, and a huge hit from England lock George Kruis – a key part of Eddie Jones’ squad during the recent Guinness Six Nations – presented Farrell with a golden opportunity to reduce the arrears from the tee.

That brought the English outfit back within seven points, and even better was to come as gorgeous hands from Farrell put Scotland winger Maitland over in the corner in added-time.

The 10-10 scoreline at the break told its own story – this was two high-calibre sides putting everything on the line in search of glory – and similar was to follow on their return to the fray.

Another quarter had almost elapsed by the time St James’ Park was treated to its next set of points, the nerveless Farrell burying another penalty after a move that had seen Scott Fardy sent to the bin.

Next, it was Saracens’ turn to capitalise on their numerical superiority, with Vunipola conjuring a moment of inspiration to help Mark McCall’s men take the initiative.

Picking the ball up off the back of a dominant scrum, the No. 8 crashed through a series of tackles in supreme fashion before stretching over the line.

Farrell duly converted the extras to notch up his 10th point of the encounter, handing Leinster the mammoth task of overhauling a 10-point deficit in the process.

Unfortunately for those of a blue and gold persuasion, that task ultimately proved beyond them, Saracens’ renowned defensive line comfortably shutting them out as the Premiership side secured a third Champions Cup star.