Leinster 43-20 Saracens, Heineken Cup, January 15
Leinster power past Saracens
January 15, 2011
Dominic Ryan touches down for Leinster's opening try
© PA Photos
Leinster marched into this season's Heineken Cup quarter-finals with a 43-20 bonus point victory over Saracens at the RDS.
The Irish province hit their English rivals for six in a clinical display that saw them guarantee top spot in Pool 2 and sound an ominous warning to the rest of Europe. Man of the Match Sean O'Brien put his side on course for victory with a brace from flanker Dominic Ryan and further scores from centre Fergus McFadden, fullback Isa Nacewa and replacement Eoin O'Malley completing Saracens' misery. An assured display from fly-half Jonathan Sexton in testing conditions contributed 13 points to the delight of a capacity home crowd.
Saracens threatened to make a match of it with first half tries from winger James Short and flanker Kelly Brown but the Premiership high-flyers failed to build on a promising opening and a late try for fullback Nils Mordt was nothing more than a consolation.
Playing with the wind at their back, Leinster opted to keep the ball in hand and had the better of the early exchanges and were rewarded with the first try of the game. Some excellent interplay down the shortside between centre Brian O'Driscoll, fullback Nacewa and hooker Richardt Strauss created the space for O'Brien to power over in the corner.
Sexton was unable to add the conversion but he was involved moments later when he found winger Shane Horgan at pace out wide. The ball was recycled with winger Luke Fitzgerald showing great strength to offload in the tackle before Nacewa again loomed up as the link man to put Ryan over for the hosts' second try which was converted by Sexton.
Saracens' failure to commit numbers to the breakdown allowed Leinster to snuff out any hint of a threat from the visitors although a great break from flanker Andy Saull threatened to do some damage before O'Driscoll cut him down in impressive style. But his team-mates were not as clinical with a loose pass from Fitzgerald on halfway pounced upon by Short who then accelerated away to touch down under the posts making Owen Farrell's conversion a formality.
With their lead reduced to five points, Leinster wasted no time in pointing to the posts when Saracens prop Rhys Gill was penalised at a scrum and his fortuitous kick went over with a little help from the upright. But back came Saracens with a superb leg drive from centre Brad Barritt taking his team into the Leinster 22 but a knock on Michael Tagicakibau brought a disappointing end to the move.
They were not deterred and a burst of pace from winger David Strettle soon had Leinster on the back foot again. Saull then loomed up in support before feeding Brown on his outside for another well-taken try that silenced the capacity crowd. Farrell's conversion was then lost in the wind before Gavin Henson made his entrance as a replacement for injured centre Tagicakibau.
Leinster would have the final say in the half with O'Brien breaching the Sarries defensive line all too easily before the ball was worked wide to flanker Shane Jennings who completed the move by feeding Ryan on his inside for the try. Sexton's conversion took Leinster out to a ten-point lead and it was an advantage they would hold until the break.
Saracens began the second half brightly and turned down an early shot at the posts in favour of a quick tap but where continually thwarted in their attempts to reduce the arrears. Instead it was Leinster who kept the scoreboard ticking over with another sweeping move. Sexton opted to run back a long clearance from Henson and he found support in the form of O'Driscoll and then Strauss who put McFadden away for the bonus point-clinching try.
Sexton's conversion put Leinster on course for the quarter-finals but Saracens showed signs of life with Farrell stroking over a penalty a few minutes later. However, it only served to spark Leinster back into life. O'Brien was again a key figure and the No.8 powered into the Saracens 22 before O'Driscoll appeared on a great line to change the angle of attack. He then found Nacewa who stepped inside Sarries fullback Mordt for his side's fifth try that was also converted by Sexton.
The home side heaped further woe on Saracens just past the hour mark with a lovely delayed pass from Sexton putting O'Malley away and he shrugged off feeble tackles from Farrell and Short on his way to Leinster's sixth try. Sexton made no mistake with the extras and the home side emptied their bench with the job done while Henson limped out of the action.
Leinster's otherwise resolute defence creaked as the game came to a close with replacement lock Devin Toner shown a yellow card after a succession of penalties against the hosts. The kick went to the corner for the lineout and Saracens peppered the Leinster line before Mordt crossed in the corner to add some gloss to the score line.
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum.