The current champions descend on the Aviva today for what is going to be the toughest game of the season in terms of heavyweight matchups. Both sides are brimming with talent, around 27 6 Nations internationals will take to the field, 17 of which are Irish! This is as close to an international game you’ll get at club level.
Leinster have not had the most straight forward of journeys in this seasons Champions Cup, having already faced Montpellier, Glasgow and Exeter who are all currently at the top of their tables in the league. Now we have to face the current Champions Cup champions who are in the hunt to lift their 3rd European trophy in 3 years! Leinster will be looking to lift their 4th European trophy (not including Challenge Cup Success) and you wouldn’t be way off the mark to say that whoever wins the match today could most likely be the champions in May!
Let’s take a look at the Leinster lineup:
15. Rob Kearney (193)
14. Fergus McFadden (166)
13. Garry Ringrose (45)
12. Isa Nacewa (180) CAPTAIN
11. James Lowe (8)
10. Johnny Sexton (144)
9. Luke McGrath (91)
1. Cian Healy (184)
2. Seán Cronin (147)
3. Tadhg Furlong (78)
4. Devin Toner (211)
5. James Ryan (10)
6. Scott Fardy (17)
7. Dan Leavy (49)
8. Jordi Murphy (101)
16. James Tracy (58)
17. Jack McGrath (126)
18. Andrew Porter (23)
19. Rhys Ruddock (139)
20. Max Deegan (16)
21. Nick McCarthy (21)
22. Joey Carbery (31)
23. Rory O’Loughlin (37)
The lineup is a thing of beauty, there’s incredible strength and experience in every single position! All of that strength and experience will be needed and surely completely utilised due to the immense threat that Saracens pose.
Isa Nacewa will captain the side and takes up the 12 position, while Ringrose will bring his excellent form at 13 to partner with the skipper in the centre.
James Lowe has been selected out on the wing and takes the place of Gibson-Park at the third non-Irish qualified quota to the squad. Nick McCarthy takes Gibson-Park’s position on the bench while Luke McGrath will start at scrum half.
Johnny Sexton is back in blue after lifting the Grand Slam trophy for Ireland two weeks ago. His leadership and game control will be crucial.
In the pack, we have Healy, Cronin and Furlong in the front 3, with McGrath, Porter and Ruddock to spring from the bench, all of which could easily be starters.
Dan Leavy and Jordi Murphy will take up the 7 and 8 positions after Sean O’Brien, Jack Conan and Van der Flier failed to return from injuries. No doubt Leavy and Murphy will slot in and out in incredible shifts.
James Tracey, Joey Carbery, Rory O’Loughlin and Max Deegan will play provide additional firepower from the bench if and when they are utilised.
Saracens have an almighty 23 selected too and will be looking to unleash chaos on the Leinster squad this afternoon. Keep an eye on Owen Farrell who I believe will be their key man today. His leadership and overall game management will test Leinster’s defence all the way through this clash.
Overall, there’s very little between these sides, they’re in my opinion the worst teams to beat this season and look like worthy champions even at this early stage of the knockouts. Although Saracens had shaky pool performances, they appear to have resolved a lot of their issues coming into the business end of the season.
Where the game will be won
Last season, Leinster looked unbeatable and had the Champions Cup almost in their hands, only to experience a major dip in form in the semi final. Such an uncharacteristic performance raised a lot of questions regarding this young squads’ mental strength. When the pools were announced last season, I felt that it was going to be a very tricky pool to exit from on the right side. However, Leinster won 6 from 6 and secured the top seed spot. Any doubts I had around their mental strength were irradiated as the squad proved to have grown up and looked a great deal sharper. This game will need a killer instinct mentality, a toughness we haven’t seen yet and an overall game that unlocks the best of our defence and attack. These three areas will decide who comes out on top. It’ll be the set piece in particular where I predict we’ll see the real difference between the two sides. The line out for both sides have been very shaky so whoever gets this area of the game fixed or working better may be the winners of this game. It’s going to won by the forwards and we’ll see lots of picking and driving phases for the try line.
Saracens look like the real deal as they have been over the last few seasons. There’s very few areas of weakness in their squad and it’s a credit to their never say die attitude and the great coach they have that they have gotten to this stage following some soul searching in the pool stages.
I think Leinster have been the standard bearers in the competition this season by a country mile, no team has come close to the very high level of skill and performances that the boys in blue have displayed.
The returnees from 6 Nations duty have undoubtedly had some work to go to get back into the Leinster swing of things but I feel that the squad has become so incredibly tight and well drilled that they’ll all sync up again, resume their sublime cohesion and inflict more heartache on another giant of Europe. It won’t be easy and it could be their toughest challenge of the season so far, but this is par for the course this season and Leinster’s pool stage dress rehearsals will have them in prime form to topple the champions in Dublin.
Leinster 27 – Saracens 18
Final score: Leinster 30 – Saracens 19