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Ugo Monye exclusive: Remarkable Saracens performance fitting end to special week of European drama on BT Sport

Former England, Harlequins and British & Irish Lions winger Ugo Monye caught up with BTSport.com to reflect on a captivating Champions Cup final at St James' Park.

As sporting drama goes, this week’s action has made for truly captivating viewing.

It all started on Tuesday evening when Liverpool achieved the impossible as they pulled off a breathtaking 4-0 victory at Anfield to overcome a three-goal first-leg deficit and dump four-time winners Barcelona out of the Champions League.

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The following evening, unlikely hat-trick hero Lucas Moura came to Tottenham’s rescue in Amsterdam as the Brazilian scored a last-gasp goal to book an all-English Champions League final with Jurgen Klopp’s Reds.

In the Europa League, Arsenal and Chelsea saw off Valencia and Eintracht Frankfurt respectively to create European football history by ensuring all four final spots in the continent's two major competitions will feature Premier League teams.

On Saturday, four days after he was at Anfield to watch Liverpool reach the final for the second successive year, Ugo Monye was at another iconic football stadium to watch the final act in a thrilling week of entertainment on BT Sport.

The former Challenge Cup winner was pitch side at Newcastle United’s St James’ Park to see if another English club could pull off a famous European victory as Saracens locked horns with reigning champions Leinster.

True to form, Saracens delivered, battling back from 10-0 down to win a third Champions Cup trophy in four years and become English rugby's most successful side in Europe.

After the game, BTSport.com caught up with Monye to reflect on a phenomenal final that crowned off a fantastic few days of sport.

“This whole week in terms of European sport has been one full of drama, one full of emotion and one which has favoured the English sides,” he said.

“I’m a former Harlequins player, but as an England fan and a sports fan I was really thrilled to see Saracens lift that trophy for a third time. It’s also magic for us a channel.

“When you’ve got the best team in the Premiership being crowned the champions of Europe it’s an amazing thing.

“This whole week has been exceptional and unique in terms of what we’ve been able to work on as pundits and fans.

“To be able to spread that love which sport gives so many... to be able to enthuse the sporting world and beyond is incredible.

“In the last two years Europe has gone to two new territories: Bilbao last year and Newcastle this season.

“I was here for the 2015 Rugby World Cup and the whole city really bought into it.

“This is a football stronghold and the way in which Newcastle have handled this weekend… fans from far and wide have come together to witness greatness today. It’s amazing.”

Try scorers Sean Maitland and Billy Vunipola will grab the headlines but it was the relentless defensive commitment of the entire squad which carried Saracens to glory.

The Londoners racked up a jaw-dropping 224 tackles as Leinster’s bid for a record-breaking fifth European Cup crumbled against a wall of Saracens red.

“Defence is part of their DNA, it’s what they’ve built their success on,” said Monye. “You talk about the infamous Wolfpack mentality, and they needed it today.”

The English champions overcame a series of setbacks to haul themselves level at half-time and gradually strangled the life out of the normally attack-dominant Leinster with immense physicality and self-belief to triumph 20-10.

“Coming up against a team with the quality of Leinster who are so comfortable on the ball, with their ability to go ruck after ruck and go through multiple phases, Saracens had to soak up the pressure at times,” said Monye.

“There was the yellow card for Maro Itoje in the first half then they lost Mako Vunipola and Titi Lamositele to injury.

“Those moments really could’ve swung the momentum, and Leinster did make hay during that 10-minute period.

“But for Saracens to have that resolve — not just the physicality but the mental fortitude — to bounce back in that second half, you’ve got to commend their big players.

“Brad Barritt was man of the match and he’s their spiritual leader as well as their captain, while Billy Vunipola scored the try that ultimately sealed victory for them.

“They’re just a phenomenal side that dealt with the occasion incredibly well.”

England head coach Eddie Jones was one of 52,000 people in attendance at St James’ Park and Monye believes one Saracens star will have done his chances of making the World Cup squad no harm on Saturday afternoon.

“I thought Alex Lozowski was exceptional today,” he said.

“He looked dynamic with the ball in his hand he looked a constant threat.

“If you look at the head-to-heads that everyone spoke about before the game, his name wasn’t one of them going up against Garry Ringrose, who was outstanding for Ireland in the Six Nations.

“But perhaps that was his finest moment in a Saracens shirt.”

Leinster and Ireland legend Brian O’Driscoll described Saracens’ display as one of the most impressive second-half performances he has seen ever seen from a club side, so does Monye agree with his BT Sport colleague?

“Yes – and it had to be!” he said.

“There was just under a thousand international caps on the pitch today.

“The Champions Cup is international rugby in club jerseys and that’s what we saw today, so much quality, so much class and not much between them today.

“They’re both a mirror image of each other. They’ve got the same values and same quality which underpin what they’re about as teams.

“That game was as physical, as fearsome and as combative as I’ve seen in a very long time.”

Watch Saracens in Gallagher Premiership semi-final action on BT Sport. If you're not already a subscriber, click here to find out how you can get set up in 15 minutes.

Champions Cup pool-stage draw in full

Champions Cup pool-stage draw in full

Champions Cup pool-stage draw in full

Champions Cup pool-stage draw in full

Champions Cup pool-stage draw in full

Champions Cup pool-stage draw in full

Holders Saracens handed daunting draw for the pool stages of the 2019/20 Champions Cup.

Holders Saracens handed daunting draw for the pool stages of the 2019/20 Champions Cup.

Holders Saracens handed daunting draw for the pool stages of the 2019/20 Champions Cup.

Holders Saracens handed daunting draw for the pool stages of the 2019/20 Champions Cup.

Holders Saracens handed daunting draw for the pool stages of the 2019/20 Champions Cup.

Holders Saracens handed daunting draw for the pool stages of the 2019/20 Champions Cup.

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