VIDEO: 'We back our attack'
CHAMPIONS CUP FINAL: The eyes of the world will be firmly fixed on St James’ Park in Newcastle on Saturday, when European heavyweights Leinster and Saracens clash in the Champions Cup Final.
Leinster are embracing the idea that this is the battle of the two best teams in Europe, and they are quietly confident their attacking strengths can break the Saracens machine and become the most successful team in the tournament’s history.
Leinster senior coach Stuart Lancaster revealed that Champions Cup joint-top try scorer Seán Cronin (calf) and Jamison Gibson-Park (hamstring) will be further assessed ahead of a final decision later in the week.
In more positive news, Josh van der Flier (groin) and Andrew Porter (pectoral) are due to return to training this week, while Rhys Ruddock will also join them having come through the Graduated Return to Play protocol.
Barry Daly will be unable for the rest of the season after picking up a collarbone injury in the final round of Guinness PRO14 games.
Lancaster struck a self-assured pose at the team’s media briefing ahead of the big match.
“We are confident in our ability to turn up and play in the big games,” he said.
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Lancaster knows Saturday’s opponents well and is an admirer of the set-up they’ve put together.
“They’ve a very good defence, it’s very well coached and disciplined,” he said.
“You go through the defence coaches at the club; Andy Farrell leading to Paul Gustard leading to Alex Sanderson; they’re definitely very good defensively, they’re very good at playing the patient game and building pressure on the opposition.
“Owen [Farrell] is a world-class kicker, so if you’re ill-disciplined, they build three points, six points, nine points.
“They’re happy to play the territory game, they’ve got patience there, but in attack I think they’ve really improved the quality of their starter plays, they’ve got the ability to play a power game, and with two ball players – at least two, but two very, very good players like Owen Farrell and Alex Goode, they can kill you in the unstructured part of the game as well.
“So you can see by the way they played how well coached and well organised they are.
“You’ve got to be good at everything, we’ve got to be able to defend their threats, obviously, the aerial threat, but equally we have to impose a Leinster game on to their defence as well.
“But you talk about the quality of Saracens; we’ve scored the most tries in the pools over the last three years, we’ve scored the most tries in the PRO14.
“You know, we’d back our attack as well. It’s the two best teams in the final. We’re a good attacking team, they’re a good attacking team.”
Saracens have won all eight of their European matches this season, sweeping past Lyon, Cardiff and Glasgow Warriors in a flawless pool campaign, before defeating Glasgow for a third time this season, 56-27 in the quarterfinals, and then Munster 32-16 in their semifinal in Coventry.
Leinster have had a more dramatic run to the Final, having had a 10-match winning run in the Champions Cup ended by fellow four-time winners Toulouse 28-27 in Pool One.
However, they responded with four successive victories to clinch a home quarterfinal and made full use of that advantage in a battling 21-18 success over fellow Irish province Ulster at the Aviva Stadium, before reaching a second successive Final with a 30-12 win over Toulouse at the same venue.
The Irish province boast three EPCR European Player of the Year nominees, including hooker Sean Cronin, who leads the competition in tries scored with six alongside Ulster wing Jacob Stockdale.
Centre Garry Ringrose – who has racked up 271 metres, seven clean breaks and beaten 33 defenders – and prop Tadhg Furlong, an ever-present in this season’s competition, have also been shortlisted for the prestigious award, with the winner being announced at the conclusion of Saturday’s final.
Meanwhile, Saracens have two players up for the prize in full-back Alex Goode – who has played every minute of the 2018-19 campaign, totalling 348 metres and 35 defenders beaten from 80 carries – and prop Mako Vunipola, who won two Heineken Man of the Match awards in the pool stage.
Injury ruled the England regular out of Saracens’ quarterfinal win, but he returned to help the English side to victory over Munster last month.
The two sides last met in the 2017-18 Champions Cup quarterfinals, when Leinster ended Saracens’ dream of three successive victories in the competition with a 30-19 win in Dublin.
Leinster remain unbeaten in three European matches against the English side, having beaten them twice in the pool stages en route to a second European Cup crown in 2011.
Saracens flyhalf Owen Farrell has led the competition in points scored for the last three seasons and sits top at this stage with 79. Fellow No.10 Johnny Sexton heads Leinster’s list with 48.
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