After months of sacrifice, and enough blood, sweat and tears to fill several hundred Champions Cups, Saracens face Leinster in this epic showdown
2019 Heineken Champions Cup Final: Leinster Rugby v Saracens, Saturday 11 May, 4pm, BT Sport 2 HD (CH 528), and 4.30pm, Channel 4/HD (CH 104/141)
When the Heineken Champions Cup kicked off in October, 20 teams from Wales, England, Scotland, Ireland and France all harboured hopes of taking home European rugby’s top prize. But now, they’ve been whittled down to just two: 2017 winners Saracens and last year’s champions Leinster.
It’s set to be a tremendous tussle at Newcastle’s St James’ Park between two of rugby union’s superpowers. Here, we take a look at the big questions behind this epic match-up ahead of the game.
Who are the key players?
With five likely starters all being nominated for the ECPR European Player of the Year award, it will be interesting to see who makes the most of their opportunity on the big stage. The players in question are Leinster’s Sean Cronin, Tadhg Furlong and Garry Ringrose, while Saracens’ Alex Goode and Mako Vunipola also make the shortlist. Other players to watch out for are Saracens’ skilled fly-half Owen Farrell, who’s the top scorer in this season’s tournament with 79 points, and Leinster’s powerful New Zealand winger James Lowe, who’s earned rave reviews this season.
How about the coaches?
With Leinster looking to defend their trophy, coach Leo Cullen will be hoping to replicate his side’s success last season. The former Ireland captain has already cemented his place in Champions Cup folklore with last year’s triumph, making the 41-year-old the first man to win the tournament as both a player (which he did three times) and a coach. Saracens’ Mark McCall is another former Irish international, who’s won the Champions Cup twice with the team. They might just be one of the best club sides around these days, and McCall can certainly take a lot of the credit for their recent success. Now in his tenth season, Saracens finished ninth in the league before he took over. It’s easy to see why he’s one of the most respected coaches in the game today.
Does their current form give any indicators?
Saracens’ route to the final was a bit more straightforward than their opponents. After topping their group with six wins out of six, they breezed past Glasgow Warriors in the quarters, before toppling Munster in the semis. Meanwhile, Leinster lost one of their group games before scraping through with the narrowest of quarter-final wins in an all-Irish affair against Ulster, where they won 21-18, before securing a more straightforward win against Toulouse in the semis.
What about their past fixtures?
Those who like their matches with a little bit of needle (who doesn’t?) won’t be disappointed, as these two certainly have “a bit of previous”, to quote Danny Dyer. While Cullen insists Ireland’s defeat to England in the Six Nations will have no bearing on this match, we think it’s safe to assume Leinster’s Irish contingent will have been counting down the days for a while (particularly with six Sarries stars in the England side that triumphed 32-20 in Dublin). Coupled with McCall being forced to deny that his players deliberately targeted Leinster’s Johnny Sexton in last year’s quarter-final, it could all get a bit tasty. In fact, 33-year-old Sexton has already referred to this fixture as “the biggest battle of our careers”.
Alright! So who’s going to win?
Saracens will certainly start as favourites, and Leinster boss Cullen has already said Leinster will need to “fire” their “shots” if they are to stop Saracens controlling possession and territory, and grinding their way to victory, particularly as they boast such a reliable kicker in Farrell. But Leinster will also be well aware that they are on the brink of joining their coach in the Champions Cup history books. If they do, it will be for a record fifth time, more than any other club has managed. Let battle commence…
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