Saracens 27-24 Racing: Sarries seal an unlikely Champions Cup win amid Premiership relegation storm

Simon Collings
AFP via Getty Images

Crisis? What crisis?

Saracens may be in the middle of a storm off the pitch - the biggest in English rugby history - but somehow they are finding a way to deliver on it.

Their relegation to the Championship was confirmed under 24 hours before this crucial Champions Cup showdown with Racing 92 due to salary cap breaches, yet somehow they secured the most unlikeliest of victories.

With relegation hanging over them, their star No8 Billy Vunipola off injured after seven minutes and down to 14 men for half the match due to Will Skelton’s red card, you just couldn’t see how Saracens could find a way past the form team in Europe.

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But they did as an Owen Farrell penalty in the dying minutes secured the four points that should, provided Gloucester do not beat Toulouse by a bonus point, earn them a place in the quarter-finals.

Relegation means they cannot play in the Champions Cup for at least the next two seasons, but as 'Sweet Caroline' blared out over the PA system at full-time suddenly the words salary cap were far from anyone’s mind.

Indeed at Allianz Park before kick-off you would not have thought a black cloud was hanging over Saracens, not least because this was a picturesque winter day.

Supporters revelled in the rare January sunshine, enjoying their usual pre-match pint and pie and talking about what Championship grounds they’d visit next season.

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There’ll be no glamour European ties in Paris, but how about Doncaster away?

On the pitch, backed by a full house, Saracens roared into life and they opened the scoring after just 118 seconds through Maro Itoje.

They had flown out of the blocks and within 12 minutes they had stretched their lead to 14 points courtesy of Jamie George, with Vunipola’s substitution due to a suspected broken arm the only blot on their copybook.

Even with all the chaos unfolding off the pitch, Saracens were delivering on it but Racing duly hit back as errors crept into the host’s game.

Elliot Daly fumbled a high ball so Virimi Vakatawa could go over and then Farrell threw a rare intercepted pass as Louis Dupichot made it 17-14.

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The hosts were rocking and their blistering start was forgotten and eradicated as Vakatawa scored his second try just after the half-hour mark to put Racing four points clear.

The energy was beginning to be sapped out of Allianz Park and, when Skelton was sent off before the break for a high tackle on Brice Dulin, it was probably just as well the half-time whistle went moments later.

Racing extended their lead after the break with a penalty, but just when you thought Saracens were down and out they came back with a beautifully worked try.

Brad Barritt dinked a chip over the top of the Racing defence and slick offloads out wide allowed Itoje to go over in the corner. Farrell nailed the conversion from the touchline and, with the scores level, suddenly there was hope again.

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This was all hands to the pump stuff from Saracens, summed up by Barritt scrumming down at flanker, and with 10 minutes to go the teams could not be separated.

Nor could they be separated in numbers either as Bernard Le Roux’s late hit on Farrell saw him sent to the sin bin and levelled the teams at 14 men each for the rest of the game.

Daly missed the resulting penalty, but wave after wave of Saracens attacks kept coming as Racing defended their tryline like their lives depended on it.

George thought he had got over, only to be held up, but a penalty earned from that series of plays put Saracens three points ahead with minutes to go.

Over to you, Gloucester.

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