A club such as Saracens are not accustomed to sneaking into the European Champions Cup quarter-finals through the back door but that was the only route open to them this year. It took a string of favourable results, notably Glasgow getting one over Exeter at Scotstoun, in addition to Saracens’ own bonus point win over Northampton, for the two-time winners to qualify in eighth and final place.
“The rugby gods decided to look after us that last weekend,” said Saracens’ Scotland wing Sean Maitland, pictured, ahead of today’s last-eight clash with Leinster. “I had chatted to a few of the Glasgow boys and they fancied themselves against Exeter so that was the first time I thought we had a chance; we just needed a couple more results to go our way.
“To squeeze into eighth and play top seed Leinster is super exciting and it doesn’t get much bigger than that. We have good memories at the Aviva Stadium against Munster with 50,000 of their fans cheering against us and it’s going to be the same, a sea of blue this time and it’s a great one to be a part of.”
This afternoon’s tie in Dublin is the key quarter. In any other year this might have been the final and whichever side emerges as winners will be odds on to lift the cup.
It will be interesting to see just how much Ireland’s success rubs off on the Dublin side and whether England’s Six Nations’ implosion affects Saracens. Like England, Sarries will surely miss the muscular presence of Billy Vunipola but at least Owen Farrell takes his place in the starting XV as does club captain Brad Barrett. The centre had a metal plate inserted in his cheek under local anesthetic last week specifically to allow him to play today’s game.
“I would fully expect any other player in this team to do the same,” said Barrett to general incredulity.
Saracens will have to be at their best to come away with a result from Dublin while Sunday’s other quarter-final is an all French affair with Racing 92 travelling to Clermont’s Stade Marcel-Michelin.
It is never an easy place to win but at least Racing field former Glasgow favourite Leone Nakarawa in their ranks; unsurprisingly the big Fijian boasts the most carries and offloads of any player in the competition to date.