Dublin - 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 Ireland's CJ Stander crossed for Munster in the last minute.
Saracens will now face the winners of Sunday's second semi-final
between French club Clermont and Leinster, Munster's arch Irish rivals,
in next month's final at Murrayfield.
"I thought our defence was extraordinary," said Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall.
"We couldn’t really escape our half in the first half but our defence remained good."
Munster have been riding a 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 and their 'Red Army' of fans dominated
Saturday's capacity crowd of more than 51 000.
"In the face of that, the fight and the togetherness that we had to
show to win the game was brilliant," added former Ireland centre McCall
after Saracens equalled Leinster's tournament record run of 17 unbeaten
Despite Saracens spending 10 minutes down to 14 men after Jackson
Wray was sin-binned, they turned around 6-3 in front after flyhalf Owen
Farrell kicked two penalties to one from Munster counterpart Tyler
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.
"The reality is that we came up against a team that were very
much better than us," said Munster director of rugby Rassie Erasmus.
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
But Munster remained without Ireland scrumhalf Conor Murray, whose
Lions place is at risk because of a nerve problem in his neck and
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.
Farrell drew Saracens level, however, with a 17th-minute penalty.
Amid a battle of sometimes aimless box-kicks, Saracens were a man
down in the 23rd minute when flanker Wray was shown a yellow card for a
high tackle on scrum-half Duncan Williams.
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, with injured Munster captain Peter O'Mahony away from the
play, he broke off the back of a ruck only to lose the ball as he
stretched out to ground it over the line.
But Saracens did have a try in the 54th minute when England prop Mako
Vunipola, bursting off a driving maul from a close-range lineout,
powered his way past wing Keith Earls.
Farrell converted and Saracens had a 10-point lead.
Just before the hour, Bleyendaal pushed a kickable penalty wide of the right post.
Saracens tightened the screw further when more scrum pressure, led by
tighthead prop Vincent Koch, resulted in a penalty on Munster's 22 and
Farrell made no mistake as he put his side 16-3 up.
Bleyendaal was off-target with a bizarre drop-goal attempt before
Wyles, in his first match in three months, ended Munster's hopes.
The 33-year-old former United States wing ran onto Farrell's
cross-field grubber kick, outmuscled Simon Zebo and spun through the
attempted challenge of Bleyendaal.
Farrell added another penalty, with Stander's score scant consolation for Munster.