Alex Goode inspired Saracens’ first-half bullying of Leinster in their own backyard as they left the Aviva Stadium with a defiant 25-17 quarter-final win and renewed hopes of a fourth Heineken Champions Cup title in five years.
Goode stood in for the suspended Owen Farrell at fly-half and gave a masterful display, converting his own 36th-minute try and kicking four penalties in a 19-point haul. Elliot Daly also supplied two monster strikes.
Having won 25 straight games since losing last year’s European final to Sarries, the Guinness PRO14 champions struggled into the wind and were alarmingly 22-3 behind at half-time.
Incredible stuff.@Alex_goode0's late boot and a heroic defensive effort saw Sarries progress to the @ChampionsCup semi-finals with victory against Leinster.#TogetherSaracens ⚫️🔴 pic.twitter.com/bveDfSEYuY
— Saracens Rugby Club (@Saracens) September 19, 2020
Leinster got back within five points thanks to tries from Andrew Porter and Jordan Larmour, but with Goode landing a last-minute penalty, Mark McCall’s eighth seeds secured a famous Dublin victory and a semi-final trip next week to either Clermont Auvergne or Racing 92.
With Covid-19 restrictions robbing this heavyweight clash of a capacity crowd, Goode quickly made an impact with three central penalties inside 11 minutes. The best of them was from 42 metres out as the visitors built a 9-3 lead.
Jonathan Sexton sandwiched in a meaty response from the left wing, with referee Pascal Gauzère keeping a keen eye on the breakdown. Leinster’s best first-quarter assault was foiled by a Maro Itoje interception.
Sarries were defending astutely to keep Leinster contained near the halfway line and after Vincent Koch drove Cian Healy backwards to win a 24th-minute penalty, Daly brilliantly turned it into three points.
The pair combined again soon after, Daly drilling over from distance after another dominant Sarries set-piece. Leinster blew a big maul opportunity approaching the break, Sarries leaking a series of penalties but clearing the danger with a turnover and another scrum penalty.
The English giants then went for the jugular just outside the Leinster 22, Duncan Taylor deftly drawing in two defenders and offloading for the pacy Goode to score past Hugo Keenan’s last-ditch tackle.
"That showed the true @Saracens spirit today."
"We owe it to ourselves to represent the badge with honour, I couldn't be prouder."
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) September 19, 2020
The reigning European Player of the Year also converted to push the gap out to 19 points, with Daly failing with a late 63-metre penalty attempt. The England full-back missed an early second-half drop goal before Leinster finally seized some control.
It was much more like it from Leo Cullen’s men as Porter, with support from James Ryan, drove in under the posts in the 48th minute. Sexton took the hosts into double figures but Sarries’ physical defence managed to keep out further attempts.
That was until the hour mark when Sexton was caught high by Mike Rhodes, the 60th-minute penalty leading to a quick switch back to midfield where Sexton’s early pass put Larmour outside Alex Lewington and in close to the posts for a rallying seven-pointer.
Rhodes, the eventual man-of-the-match, redeemed himself with some key interventions, and despite Goode and Daly suffering penalty misses, a panicky Leinster coughed up possession when trying to break from deep.
It was left to the 32-year-old Goode to steer over the clinching penalty from the right wing, leaving Leinster crestfallen and ensuring that Saracens, against the backdrop of their impending relegation, could yet end their most turbulent of seasons with Europe’s biggest prize.