Saracens end Munster’s European dream

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Dublin (AFP) – Second-half tries from Mako Vunipola and Chris Wyles sent title-holders Saracens into the European Champions Cup final as they beat Munster 26-10 at Dublin’s Lansdowne Road on Saturday.

Although they led only 6-3 at half-time, Saracens — also the reigning English champions — scored 20 unanswered points in the second half before CJ Stander crossed for Munster in the last minute.

Saracens, bidding for a ‘double Double’ will now face the winners of Sunday’s second semi-final between Clermont and Leinster in next month’s Champions Cup final at Murrayfield. 

Despite Saracens spending 10 minutes down to 14 men after Jackson Wray was sin-binned, they turned around 6-3 in front after fly-half Owen Farrell kicked two penalties to one from Munster counterpart Tyler Bleyendaal.

Vunipola’s converted try early in the second half gave the English giants breathing space at 13-3 and they’d already taken a grip of the game by the time replacement back Wyles went over 10 minutes from time.

Farrell, in a flawless kicking display, scored 16 points.

Saracens’ starting XV featured all six of their players selected this week for the British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand — Farrell, Billy Vunipola, Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Jamie George and Mako Vunipola.

But Munster remained without Ireland scrum-half Conor Murray, whose Lions place is at risk because of a nerve problem in his neck and shoulder.

Saturday’s match saw several of Saracens’ England stars back at the ground where their dreams of a second straight Grand Slam were dashed in a 13-9 defeat by Ireland last month.

Munster have been riding an even greater wave of emotion this season following the shock death of popular coach Anthony Foley on the eve of a Champions Cup pool match in Paris in October.

Their ‘Red Army’ of fans dominated a capacity crowd of more than 51,000.

Munster swarmed over Saracens in the early stages, with flanker Tommy O’Donnell forcing a five-metre scrum after tackling Farrell and Bleyendaal kicked them into the lead with a simple penalty.

But Saracens almost hit back with a try, only for Richard Wigglesworth to drop an inside pass from wing Sean Maitland when the scrum-half had the line at his mercy.

Farrell drew Saracens level, however, with a 17th-minute penalty.

Amid a battle of box-kicks, Saracens were a man down in the 23rd minute when flanker Wray was shown a yellow card by French referee Romain Poite for a high tackle on scrum-half Duncan Williams.

– Tough Saracens defence –

But Munster could not find a way through Saracens’ defence.

Instead, Wray returned for a scrum where Saracens forced Munster prop Dave Kilcoyne into conceding a penalty and Farrell kicked the London club into the lead five minutes before the break.

Early in the second half, England lock Kruis went desperately close to a try when be broke off the back of a ruck only to lose the ball as he stretched out to ground it over the line.

But Saracens had the first try of the match in the 54th minute when England prop Mako Vunipola, bursting off a driving maul from a close-range line-out, powered his way past wing Keith Earls.

Farrell converted and Saracens had a 10-point lead. 

Just before the hour, Bleyendaal missed a chance to reduce the deficit when he pushed a kickable penalty wide of the right post.

Saracens then tightened the screw when more scrum pressure led to a penalty on Munster’s 22 and Farrell made no mistake as he put Saracens 16-3 up.

Bleyendaal was off-target with a bizarre drop-goal attempt.

Wyles then put the result beyond doubt when he ran onto Farrell’s cross-field grubber kick, outmuscled Simon Zebo and spun through the attempted challenge of Bleyendaal.

Saracens players celebrate victory on the final whistle during their rugby union Champions Cup semi-final match against Munster at the Aviva stadium in Dublin on April 22, 2017
Copyright AFP Paul FAITH
Saracens’ English fly-half Owen Farrell (L) puts three points on the board as Munster’s Irish prop Dave Kilcoyne watches during their rugby union Champions Cup semi-final match in Dublin on April 22, 2017
Copyright AFP Paul FAITH
Munster’s full-back Simon Zebo (R) is tackled by Saracens’ Brad Barritt (2R) during their rugby union Champions Cup semi-final match in Dublin on April 22, 2017
Copyright AFP Paul FAITH