sport news Saracens cast off salary cap shame to make English rugby proud with huge win ...

Richard Wigglesworth was invariably on target during Saracens’ epic win over Leinster and the former England scrum-half was on target after it too.

While a 25-17 Heineken Champions Cup victory in the Irish capital extended Saracens’ defence of their title to the last four, it meant so much more than that. It allowed them to cast off the unwanted pantomime villain costumes they have worn for months.

Relegation from the Premiership is looming next month, as punishment for salary cap breaches, but that fact is no longer a defining one. What they did in Dublin has altered perceptions. It felt as if English rugby became proud of them again, rather than antagonised by their off-field offences. And the end of an era was gloriously deferred. 

Saracens have gone from villains to heroes after a triumphant victory over Leinster

Saracens have gone from villains to heroes after a triumphant victory over Leinster

The English side won in the Irish capital in a huge Champions Cup clash on Saturday

The English side won in the Irish capital in a huge Champions Cup clash on Saturday

Having tormented Leinster with a trademark aerial barrage, Wigglesworth perfectly captured what the victors had achieved, saying: ‘We’re not looking for sympathy, but we are doing this with one hand tied behind our back, because five or six of our best players are away on loan.  

‘Maybe we deserved this. Maybe we’ve got to do it the hard way, to prove that what we built is true and special, if we do it like this. We know it ourselves but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a bonus to show everyone.’

While the punishments Saracens have received were deserved for cheating the system, high praise is due too for this proof that they have built a special institution — not one rotten from top to bottom.

The win has restored pride in the club following the salary cap scandal which rocked the sport

The win has restored pride in the club following the salary cap scandal which rocked the sport

It was the ultimate illustration of their spirit, unity and resilience. Paying over the wage limit may have contributed to their successes, but these qualities have been crucial too. Saracens showed their home-grown core remains strong and that they are magnificently organised and nurtured by their coaching staff.

It remains to be seen if they can rise to such heights again in France on Saturday, but whether or not they go on to claim the blue-riband club prize for a fourth time, there is already a notable triumph to savour. They have shed the villain masks and replaced them with superhero capes.

The quarter-final also exposed a gulf between the Premiership and the Pro 14. Leinster’s league didn’t prepare them for a giant step up to Test-class rugby.

They were not match-sharp enough or battle-hardened enough. They don’t need to be while cruising past Celtic and Italian opposition with

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