Saracens, Leicester progress into Champions Cup semis

Rugby

Holders Saracens stormed into the semifinals of the European Champions Cup after quelling a spirited Leinster comeback to win 25-17 at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium on Saturday in a keenly-contested rematch of last season’s title clash.

Four-time champions Leinster came into the contest as Pool 1 winners after securing six victories from as many matches while Saracens finished second in Pool 4, but it was the visitors who dominated the first half with five penalties.

Alex Goode, who came into the Saracens side as a replacement for suspended England skipper Owen Farrell, then converted after scoring a late try to give his team a 22-3 lead at the end of the opening period.

Leinster, who had won their last 18 games at the Aviva, responded with tries through Andrew Porter and Jordan Larmour after the restart, with Johnny Sexton converting on both occasions to cut the deficit to five points at 17-22.

Saracens missed two penalties late in the game before Goode scored one with 10 seconds remaining to deliver the knockout blow.

It was Leinster’s first defeat of any sort since they lost to Saracens in last year’s final.

Saracens are set to drop into England’s second tier at the end of the 2019-20 Premiership campaign after being relegated for breaching salary cap rules and will not be allowed to compete in Europe next season.

“This team has been built through hard work, adversity and resilience and I think that Saracens spirit shone through,” captain Brad Barritt told BT Sport.

“With and without the ball, we won the contacts. The prospect of having another week together was the biggest thing. We were fighting for something tangible.”

Flanker Michael Rhodes said the team expected a strong fightback from Leinster.

Saracens will face the winner of Saturday’s second quarter-final in which French Top14 sides Clermont Auvergne and Racing 92 — top sides in Pool 3 and 4 — face off at Stade Marcel-Michelin.

The two French teams have lost five of the last seven finals between them.

Meanwhile, Leicester Tigers reached the semifinals after their game with Castres Olympique was called off due to COVID-19 positives in the French side, European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) said.

Leicester were set to host the Top14 team on Sunday, but EPCR said a medical panel met by video conference on Friday after Castres confirmed three players and one staff member had tested positive before their departure to England.

“EPCR has decided to cancel the match between Leicester Tigers and Castres Olympique,” EPCR said in a statement.

“Castres have to forfeit the match and Leicester will qualify for the Challenge Cup semifinals. The decision followed a meeting of a medical committee comprising medical leads from the unions, league bodies and both clubs, and subsequent independent medical advice.”

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