We cover all the key talking points, selection decisions and stats ahead of the Heineken Cup final in Newcastle
Leinster v Saracens Champions Cup final preview
There is a word that is often used to surmise both Leinster and Saracens: ruthless. Often heralded as Europe’s most calculating and Terminator-like sides, this Heineken Cup final will decide whether the boys in blue get their fifth European title, or Sarries get their third in four years.
It could be a symphony of detonations in Newcastle in a match some say will decide who is the greatest European side of the age.
Saracens have been untouchable so far this European season and teed-off on Munster in the semi-finals. Leinster were equally clinical in their performance against free-flowing Toulouse in their semi, perhaps exorcising any remaining demons from their loss to Toulouse in round two of the group stages. The Irish outfit are, in modern sporting parlance, peaking at the right time.
The last time these two met was in the quarter-finals last season, with eventual champions Leinster dispatching Sarries in front of a Dublin crowd. Memories of that defeat will no doubt power a fervent Saracens side, while assuring Leinster that they have the power when they play like Leinster.
You know the old idiom, “What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?” Well, there is the irresistible force paradox which suggests that the two cannot coexist, one must yield. No one can draw a final – we will finally see if Leinster’s irresistibly accurate assaults can shatter Saracens’ immovable defence.
What’s the big team news?
A few fitness concerns have been erased, with Leinster clearing hooker and the competition’s joint-leading try-scorer Sean Cronin fit to play. Rob Kearney is at full-back which means that Leinster have box-office talents James Lowe and Jordan Larmour on either wing.
Sean O’Brien starts his final game for Leinster before heading off to London Irish and vital tighthead Tadhg Furlong will play his 100th match for the side.
He will renew acquaintances with Sarries loosehead Mako Vunipola, in what could be one of the decisive clashes of this tie. Sean Maitland is also cleared fit to start on the wing for Saracens, while Brad Barritt is fine to skipper the side from the centre.
Giant lock Will Skelton comes in to partner George Kruis in the second row while Maro Itoje slides into six, replacing the injured Michael Rhodes. He will assist the powerpack No 8 Billy Vunipola from the back of the scrum.
What have the coaches said?
Leinster boss Leo Cullen said: “We need to understand the threats that Saracens pose and they’re so different to the threats that we had in our semi-final against Toulouse because they’re at complete opposite ends of the spectrum. Toulouse are built on all-out attack in many ways whereas Saracens are built on all-out defence and pressure. That’s not to say that one is right and one is wrong but that’s just the way the teams are set up.
“The challenge is very different and we need to understand what the threat of this team is that we’re playing, just like every other week that we play.”
Saracens DoR Mark McCall said: “Those who played in that 2014 final would tell you that when they lost to Toulon they thought they were ready but they weren’t ready emotionally or skill-wise. Their development from then to now has been massive. We have developed big-match experience over the years as well. This is our eighth (domestic or European) final out of a possible 11, so our group are well accustomed to playing in these matches. They know what’s required.”
Any interesting statistics?
- Both of these teams have scored 32 tries throughout the competition
- These sides have met three times in Europe since 2010 and Leinster have won on all three occasions.
- The bookies have Saracens to win at 10/11, a Leinster win at 6/5 and a draw after 80 minutes at 23/1.
- Leinster hooker Sean Cronin is the joint-top try-scorer in Europe this season (alongside Ulster’s Jacob Stockdale), with six tries.
- Through their entire history in the competition, Leinster score an average of 26 points a game, while for Sarries it’s 28.
- Owen Farrell is the top points scorer in Europe this season, with 79, but Johnny Sexton has landed one more conversion than him, with 18.
- Leinster wing James Lowe is the bookies’ favourite to score first, at 17/2.
What time is kick off and is it on TV?
Leinster v Saracens, Saturday 11 May, St James’ Park, Newcastle
This game kicks off at 5pm BST, and will be shown live on BT Sport 2 and Channel 4 in the UK, VIRGIN Media One in Ireland and Eir Sport customers can stream BT coverage on their eir Sport App. You can listen to the match on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra or via RTÉ Radio 1’s Saturday Sport coverage.
Plenty of eyes will be on referee Jérome Garcès (France) and how lenient he may be at the breakdown. His support team are also all French, with assistants Romain Poite and Pascal Gauzère, while the TMO is Philippe Bonhoure.
What are the line-ups?
Leinster: Rob Kearney; Jordan Larmour, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe; Johnny Sexton (capt), Luke McGrath; Cian Healy, Sean Cronin, Tadhg Furlong, Devin Toner, James Ryan, Scott Fardy, Sean O’Brien, Jack Conan.
Replacements: James Tracy, Jack McGrath, Michael Bent, Rhys Ruddock, Max Deegan, Hugh O’Sullivan, Ross Byrne, Rory O’Loughlin.
Saracens: Alex Goode; Liam Williams, Alex Lozowski, Brad Barritt (capt), Sean Maitland; Owen Farrell, Ben Spencer; Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Titi Lamositele, Will Skelton, George Kruis, Maro Itoje, Jackson Wray, Billy Vunipola.
Replacements: Joe Gray, Richard Barrington, Vincent Koch, Nick Isiekwe, Schalk Burger, Richard Wigglesworth, Nick Tompkins, David Strettle.