|European Champions Cup semi-final: Saracens v Munster|
|Saracens: (12) 32|
|Tries: Rhodes, B Vunipola; Pens: Farrell 6; Cons: Farrell 2|
|Munster: (9) 16|
|Try: Sweetnam; Pens: Bleyendaal 2, Murray; Con: Hanrahan|
Billy Vunipola scored a late try, was named man of the match, and was briefly confronted by a Munster fan as Saracens powered into the Champions Cup final.
Vunipola, who was booed throughout, sealed a deserved victory for Sarries.
It came in a week he was warned by English rugby bosses for defending Israel Folau’s social media post in which he said “hell awaits” gay people.
Vunipola added to Michael Rhodes’ try for Sarries in Coventry, with Owen Farrell kicking 22 points.
That ensured Darren Sweetnam’s score for Munster was in vain, and carried the two-time champions to their fourth final in six seasons.
Mark McCall’s side will face either Leinster or Toulouse, who meet on Sunday, at Newcastle’s St James’ Park on 11 May.
Vunipola’s 10 days in the headlines
Vunipola said after the game he was “determined” to show he had not been distracted by a 10-day period in which he:
Farrell edges first-half kicking battle
In a first half devoid of tries, opposing fly-halves Farrell and Tyler Bleyendaal – who had come in for Joey Carbery – were to the fore.
Farrell was first to strike, after Saracens scrum-half Ben Spencer had forced two early knock-ons, but Bleyendaal evened things up after Sarries were penalised at the breakdown.
Controversy surrounded Farrell’s second penalty, with Munster fans feeling full-back Mike Haley had been tackled in the air, but the England international slotted it over, then made it 9-3 as his side looked to take control.
Bleyendaal reduced the lead to three, though, and Conor Murray levelled things up before another Farrell penalty took Sarries into the break in front.
Sarries’ class shows after break
Saracens had created several attacking opportunities in the first half, but were unable to penetrate Munster’s defence.
That was, perhaps, no surprise given Sarries had scored the most tries per game – and Munster conceded the fewest – in this season’s competition.
But things clicked for McCall’s side after the break, as Alex Goode’s brilliant pass to Titi Lamositele on the left wing created space for Rhodes to burst over.
After Farrell’s conversion and two more penalties, Munster faced a 16-point deficit.
But some quick thinking from Murray brought them back into the game. He grabbed the ball at the base of a Saracens scrum on their own five-metre line and when it was worked wide Sweetnam went over.
The last word went to Vunipola as he barrelled over from close range, celebrating his try by slapping the Saracens badge on his chest.
What they said
Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall:
“It feels good because we played really well. We knew it was the kind of game where you had to be persistent and we were.
“It’s easy to get frustrated when the scoreboard doesn’t reflect how you’re playing but the players could feel it building and we started the second half strongly.
“Most of the reason we couldn’t score a try is because of how brilliant Munster are defensively – we attacked as well we have for a while, we just couldn’t get over the line.”
Munster head coach Johann van Graan:
“We got beaten by the better side on the day. We can’t fault the efforts of the players or the management.”
Saracens: Goode, Strettle, Lozowski, Barritt, Williams; Farrell, Spencer; M Vunipola, George, Lamositele, Itoje, Kruis, Rhodes, Wray, B Vunipola.
Replacements: Tompkins for Barritt (41), Koch for Lamositele (59), Skelton for Wray (59), Barrington for M Vunipola (63), Burger for Rhodes (74), Wigglesworth for Spencer (74), Lewington for Strettle (75), Gray for George (75), Lamositele for Kruis (80)
Sin-bin: Koch (77).
Munster: Haley; Conway, Farrell, Scannell, Sweetnam; Bleyendaal, Murray; Kilcoyne, Scannell, Ryan; Kleyn, Beirne; O’Mahony (C), O’Donoghue, Stander.
Replacements: Archer for Ryan (51), Goggin for Hayley (51), Hanrahan for Bleyendaal (54), Loughman for Kilcoyne (61), Holland for Kleyn (61), Marshall for Scannell (67), Botha for O’Donoghue (67), Mathewson for Murray (74)