Saracens will face Leinster in the European Champions Cup quarter-finals – a repeat of last season’s final – after the scandal-hit London club finally found something to smile about.
Breaches of Premiership Rugby’s salary cap have seen Saracens hit with a severe punishment, with the club told on Saturday they will be demoted from the top tier of English rugby at the end of the season.
Their domestic achievements and their dominance of the Champions Cup, which they have won in three of the past four seasons, have come in for fresh scrutiny since it emerged Saracens had broken the rules.
Director of rugby Mark McCall told his players to set the off-pitch problems aside on Sunday, and a dramatic 27-24 win over Racing 92 proved enough for Saracens to book a last-eight place after Gloucester lost 35-14 to Toulouse later in the day.
Owen Farrell booted a match-winning late penalty for 14-man Saracens, who had Will Skelton sent off in the first half and lost Billy Vunipola to an arm injury.
Two tries from Maro Itoje and one from Mako Vunipola were countered by Racing, whose five-pointers came from Virimi Vakatawa, who dotted down twice, and Louis Dupichot.
Saracens led 17-7 at one stage but were 21-17 behind at the break, turning the game around with Itoje’s second try before England captain Farrell nailed a 75th-minute penalty.
these guys pic.twitter.com/dNzY6B1nEA
— Maro Itoje (@maroitoje) January 19, 2020
At the final whistle, Saracens were not sure of their place in the quarter-finals, with a two-hour wait until that was confirmed.
Racing beat them to top spot in Pool 4, and to grab one of the three last-eight places allocated to the best runners-up Saracens needed Gloucester to fall short against Toulouse.
The Cherry and Whites were well beaten in France, going down by five converted tries to two at Stade Ernest-Wallon, with Romain Ntamack running in two of the Top 14 side’s scores.
It means Saracens face another appointment with Leinster, the team they beat 20-10 at St James’ Park last May to be crowned European champions.
This time Saracens must travel to Dublin to tackle the 2018 Champions Cup winners.
During Leinster’s run to European glory two years ago, Saracens lost away to the Irish outfit in the quarter-finals.
Sunday’s other matches involved teams whose run in this competition is over for another year, with Munster beating Ospreys 33-6 and Montpellier grabbing a thrilling 35-29 success against Connacht.
Quarter-final line-up (ties to be played on April 3-5):
Clermont Auvergne v Racing 92
Toulouse v Ulster
Exeter Chiefs v Northampton Saints
Leinster v Saracens
KEO.co.za News wire is powered by opta