If only we’d kicked for touch instead of box kicking. If only Ringrose had looked to his right to see the overlap. Leinster 10-20 Saracens.
Neither Luke McGrath’s decision to box kick or Garry Ringrose’s to go for the try line on his own cost us the match. But the combination of these and other mistakes were enough to give Saracens the edge.
Leinster had enough opportunities to win this game but their own mistakes cost them dearly. It must be admitted that the Saracens defence played a huge role in their upsetting the reigning champions.
From my high vantage point, I had a good view of the offside line. Saracens were probably only guilty of being beyond it a couple of times. Their line speed up to the ball carrier is unreal. They simply shut Leinster down again and again.
Still, with the wonderful start that Leinster had, going ten points clear in the first half, they should have done better. Game management was poor, especially by Luke McGrath towards the end of the half. Kicking the ball to touch to end the half was the sensible play, especially with Itoje returning to the field at the previous stoppage.
Saracens regathered his box kick and marched down the field to score a good try, sending the teams in level at half time.
While the English team started the slower of the two sides, you felt that they grew into the game as the first half went on. Leinster took first blood Tadgh Furlong penetrating the defence to score after a painfully methodical build up.
We squandered opportunities in the first half, but would have felt good going in seven points clear. It was as if they were collectively staying out of the punching zone of a much heavier boxing opponent.
Letting in a try to end the first half is always a demoralising event. Even still, Leinster came out in the second half looking the brighter of the two teams, however, we failed to score any points despite spending time in their twenty-two.
Garry Ringrose’s break early in the second half was well taken, but if he had realised that they had the numbers out wide, surely he would have released the ball rather than carrying it into contact. It was a rare moment when the Saracen defence looked to have a gap.
We were still in the game, but things began to slip. It’s rare for Leinster to allow another team to score twenty points without reply, but that’s just what we did. As the game wore on there was a sense of sad, inevitability creeping around the crowd. It simply did not seem like we would be able to get another scoring chance.
Saracens controlled the ball and began to look unstoppable. Their second try was a consequence of sustained pressure and consummate skill. As Farrell pushed the subsequent conversion through the posts, giving his team a ten point cushion, Leinster fans were left shaking their heads.
With the two-score margin, all they had to do was play the game in our half of the pitch. Despite some promising individual cameos, we really were stuck. It was like being counted out after a long sleeper hold.
They played up to the final whistle, not wanting to give up the title easily. But everyone realised that a score in the last few minutes would be little more than a consolation. We did not get even that. It finished 10-20.
We were beaten by a better team. They may not be pretty to watch, exciting little neutral support, and may be in trouble with the wage cap, but they are the best team in Europe. They might stay in the top spot for a long time.
The Irish teams will struggle with Saracens over the next few years. The only way that I see us beating them is to do it on home soil. We want to face them in the quarter final or semifinal stages, but on our own turf.
That means we – and I include Munster, Ulster and Connacht – need to aim to top our respective pools. One of the provinces will face Saracens in the pool stages next year, most likely. Beating them in at least one game might cause them to have to travel for the knock-out stages. A big target for all Irish provinces.
There is still more rugby to play for. We cannot win the double, but at least we can give a defence for the Pro 14 title. Munster is up next in what will probably be Sean O’Brien’s final game at the RDS.
Beating our old rivals will take some of the bitter taste from the collective mouth after this weekend.
On the plus side, Newcastle was a lovely city to visit, with welcoming people who came to the game and enjoyed watching their compatriots win.
The roadshow moves on to Marseille next year, another nice part of the world. We will have to wait twelve months for another shot at the title. But that’s a World Cup away.