MATCH REPORT | Saracens Men 39 - 24 Lyon
Saracens Men booked their place in the Last 16 of the Investec Champions Cup in stunning style as they completed an incredible second-half comeback to beat Lyon 39-24.
The Men in Black trailed by 12 points with 30 minutes to go, but turned it around to show incredible character after a challenging month to come through with flying colours.
A brace from Maro Itoje as well as tries from Ivan van Zyl, Juan Martin Gonzalez and Lucio Cinti, plus 12 points from the boot of Owen Farrell meant that the North Londoners will advance to the next round of Europe’s top competition.
Sarries, who needed to warm the crowd up on a freezing cold night got off to a blistering start, with a try after just four minutes.
The hosts went from side to side in an extraordinarily long passage of play, and then they were awarded a penalty which van Zyl took quickly to dot down from just five metres. The conversion went just wide, but Sarries had a 5-0 lead in no time at all.
Sarries enjoyed all of the possession in the early stages, a gorgeous offload from Elliot Daly almost released Rotimi Segun but the defence scrambled back.
Despite having all of the ball, Lyon then struck out of nowhere to take the lead with 15 minutes gone. The home side were on the attack but Davit Niniashvili intercepted a pass and then ran 80 metres unopposed to dive over under the posts. Leo Berdeu then converted to give the French side a 7-5 lead.
Lyon then had a huge chance to give themselves some breathing space when they went quickly from the base of a scrum, but as Alfred Parisien stepped inside the ball bounced out of his grasp and Sarries survived.
The visitors, who were on top then extended their lead as Berdeu’s penalty sailed through the posts when Sarries were penalised for not releasing, giving them a five point advantage with 30 minutes gone.
It almost got better for the French when Niniashvili burst through another gap, but Itoje did brilliantly to intercept his inside pass and then van Zyl could clear from the breakdown.
Itoje was then leading the charge for his side, a brilliant turnover brought the crowd back to their feet as the Londoners searched for a route back in to the game, and to the knockout stages.
However that route got even tougher on the brink of half time as Lyon crashed over for their second to give them control of the game. A scrum in the 22 gave them the field position, and then Josiah Maraku bundled over to send the travelling fans wild. The conversion from Berdeu made it 17-5 to the visitors at the break.
Saracens, who knew they would need a heroic second half, made the perfect start to the second 40 and crossed the line just four minutes after the restart. An interception from Daly took play in to the 22, and then after several phases a lovely pass from Billy Vunipola released Itoje who crashed over. Farrell added the extras to cut the deficit to just five.
However just as it looked like they had the momentum back, Lyon hit straight back with a freak try as two charge downs ended up in the hands of Baraku who had an easy run to the line. The conversion went over, but some real handbags after the try had been scored meant Sarries had a penalty straight from the restart.
Farrell then kicked a penalty with 50 minutes on the clock, pulling the score back to 15-24 ahead of a season defining half an hour.
The skipper then exchanged beautifully with Segun on the right wing with a one-two cutting the defence open, but just as it looked like Farrell would get away he was hauled down and the penalty went to the visitors.
Itoje, who was playing one of the games of his life then scored his second as he continued to drag his side back in to the match. Daly’s excellent touch-finder put them within striking range, and then from the maul the second-rower peeled away to send the North Stand wild. Farrell’s exquisite touchline conversion then meant the deficit was now just two points.
The comeback was almost complete when Lucio Cinti was just inches away from escaping the final defender on the left, but the hosts now had all the momentum as we entered the final quarter.
The pressure eventually told with 15 minutes to go, another penalty right in front of the posts saw Farrell point to the posts and he made no mistake, edging the hosts 25-24 ahead.
The bonus point try was next to follow as StoneX went in to raptures thanks to Juan Martin Gonzalez. More pressure ramped up on the Lyon line, and then the Argentinian snuck under a whole host of bodies to stretch over. Eventually after a check with the TMO the try was given, and Niniashvili was also sent to the sin-bin. Farrell’s conversion gave Sarries an eight point lead.
They then put the icing on the cake with five minutes left, some lovely hands from Alex Goode put Cinti in acres of space on the left and he could dive over to put the result doubt. Farrell’s brilliant conversion made it 39-24 as we headed in to the closing stages.
The ball was then hammered in to the stands when the clock struck red to confirm a memorable win and a place in the last 16.
Attention now turns back to the Gallagher Premiership when Exeter Chiefs head to StoneX next Saturday. Tickets are already very limited, click here to book yours!