Champions Cup | Leinster v Saracens line ups and preview

Champions Cup | Leinster v Saracens line ups and preview

The quarter-finals of the Champions Cup are imminent, kicking off on Saturday evening with the first clash which sees Leinster hosting Saracens at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.

Life is good for Leinster at present – the Irishmen’s hands barely off the Pro 14 trophy as they take the field. However, with Saracens having no hope in this year’s Gallagher Premiership, all their attention and effort will be poured into this Champions Cup campaign.


Leinster Rugby | Match Report: Leinster Rugby 27 Ulster Rugby 5

What gives this particular encounter an added dash of spice is the recent history between these two foes, as far as this competition in concerned. With each set-piece, with each backline move, each rampaging forward charge, each blue-clad shoulder thumping into a Saracen’s midriff, Leinster will be preoccupied with and hunting the goal of revenge.

Conditions were good on 11 May 2019 when Johnny Sexton hoisted the ball into the smoky air to catalyse a bruising contest between Leinster and Saracens which would ultimately bestow the title of Champions of Europe on the victors.


In front of 51 000 fans, both teams were fired up and confident, but as the meaty arm of Billy Vunipola stretch over the try-line in the 66th minute, the Irishmen’s fate was sealed as runners-up before Springbok prop Vincent Koch hoofed the ball into touch to bring finality to the 20-10 scoreline.


The image of the smiles on the faces of the elated Saracens outfit that day will only fuel the resolve of Leo Cullen’s troops come Saturday.

Saracens, meanwhile, are looking in fairly decent shape, having posted four wins from the last seven rounds since the continuation of the Premiership after the coronavirus-imposed hiatus. Most notably, Sarries pulled a victory from the fiery contest that was played out between them and Exeter Chiefs, although, admittedly, both sides elected to rest a number of high-ranking individuals with the Champions Cup in mind.

Sarries’ main concern ahead of kick-off will be devising a plan to breach the blue wall of defence which has seen off wave after wave of attack this season. As Mark McCall and his staff would have noted in the Pro 14 final, attacking out wide against Leinster will be a limited option as Garry Ringrose and co. have honed closing down space into a fine art. On top of that, Leinster swarm on defence; each players display familiarity in terms of strategy, their communication is clear and precise, their opponents are hit back in the tackle.

A particularly impressive string in the Leinster defence bow is their shrewdness at ruck time; their decisions on when to commit players and when to fan out are nigh-on perfect. In the final, for example, while Ulster routinely committed three or four players to a ruck, there was often not a blue jersey to be seen – unless, of course, the chance of a turnover was there – meaning that there were often twelve or eleven Ulster attackers running at 15 eager Leinster defenders.

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With the battle lines drawn, the match has all the makings of a great spectacle, with Saracens’ motivation to defend their title pitted against Leinster’s desire to earn it for themselves after coming so close last year. Roll on Saturday!     

Through the years:

 

2019

Saracens 20 – 10 Leinster

(St. James’ Park)

2018

Leinster 30 – 19 Saracens

(Aviva Stadium)

2011

Leinster 43-20 Saracens

(RDS Arena)

2011

Saracens 23- 25 Leinster

(Wembley Stadium)

Team News

Leinster

Sexton Returns as Connors and Keenan Make European Debuts

Johnny Sexton will captain the side with two players, Hugo Keenan and Will Connors, making European debuts from the start and a third, Ryan Baird, from the bench.

Jordan Larmour is selected at full-back and the former St. Andrew’s College man will win his 50th cap for Leinster in the number 15 jersey.

Keenan will make his European debut on the right wing with James Lowe selected on the left.

In the centre once again Cullen has selected Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose as his partnership.

In the half-backs, Luke McGrath starts at scrumhalf alongside captain Sexton.

Cian Healy will become the fourth most-capped Leinster player of all time when he pulls on the number one jersey tomorrow. The Clontarf native is closing in on Jamie Heaslip who is in third place on 229 caps.

Seán Cronin is selected alongside Healy in the front row as is Andrew Porter.

Devin Toner and James Ryan will again form the second-row partnership for Leinster Rugby this week.

Finally, in the back row, Caelan Doris will start at blindside flanker, with Will Connors selected at openside and Jack Conan at number eight.

On the bench, Ryan Baird is another player in line to make his European debut should he be introduced.

Saracens

Jackson Wray will make his 250th Saracens appearances on Saturday.

The 29-year-old debuted for Sarries in 2008 and has been integral to the club’s on-field success over the past decade.

He is joined the back row by Mike Rhodes, who is closing in on 100 outings for the Men in Black, and Billy Vunipola – a try-scorer in last season’s European final.

His brother Mako returns to the front row alongside England teammate Jamie George and South Africa international Vincent Koch, while Maro Itoje is partnered by Tim Swinson in the second row.

Scotland international Swinson will run out for his 50th European match in Dublin.

In the back division, Owen Farrell’s suspension sees Alex Goode switch to fly-half to play outside scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth.

Elliot Daly fills in at full-back with Sean Maitland and Alex Lewington taking spot on the wings. Captain Brad Barritt and Duncan Taylor make up the midfield.

Replacements Alec Clarey and Dom Morris will earn their Champions Cup stripes should they enter the fray.

LineUps

Leinster

Leinster Rugby

Saracens

Saracens

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