| 5.1°C Dublin

Saracens know how to get best of Blues


MIND GAMES: Saracens’ Alex Goode hopes to have a psychological edge on Leinster. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire

MIND GAMES: Saracens’ Alex Goode hopes to have a psychological edge on Leinster. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire

MIND GAMES: Saracens’ Alex Goode hopes to have a psychological edge on Leinster. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire

News of Saracens' points deduction broke less than 48 hours after England lost the World Cup final last year. That deduction later became a relegation as salary cap breaches came home to roost for the Londoners.

Yet, while a number of high-profile players have departed the scene as a result, an impressive list of individuals chose to stay put and fight for promotion next season.


The prospect of retaining the Heineken Champions Cup played a part in encouraging stars like Maro Itoje, Owen Farrell, the Vunipola brothers and Jamie George to stay on. Others, like captain Brad Barritt and stalwart Alex Goode, decided to commit until the end of this campaign.

Scotland star Sean Maitland is another who decided the grass would not be greener on the other side and that a year in the second tier of English rugby wouldn't be so bad.

Since action resumed they've been playing a succession of meaningless matches, making Saturday's visit to Dublin all the more important.

Farrell is suspended and Will Skelton, Ben Spencer and Liam Williams are among those who have left, but they still believe that retaining their crown is a realistic goal.

"It's been a weird old season, let's be honest, with curveballs thrown at us the whole year," Maitland said.

"In the back of the mind, we've always had this Leinster game. It's the only game that really means anything. For the older boys like me, we've been building up to this game as the one with real significance."

Leinster have been unbeaten since last year's 20-10 final defeat to Sarries at St James' Park. Twenty-five wins in a row is an unprecedented run, but this week is their toughest task to date despite Saracens' absentees.

"We are not going there thinking 'oh we have to hang in there and win', we are going in there to say 'we have beaten you before and we can beat you again," Goode said. "We are the last team to beat them and they're aware of that. We hope that it sits in their minds.

"At the same time, they are very well coached, they are organised and they have a whole team of internationals pretty much. You don't get weaknesses in that sense, but it's about us making sure we have the right mind-set, we attack the game and don't just sit back and let them come at us."

This is the third knock-out match between the teams in as many years.

Leinster claimed the first in Dublin in the 2018 quarter-final, Sarries got revenge last term and this weekend will mark the final chapter of the trilogy given Saracens will not be in the tournament next season, even if they win this edition.

Shut down

Both Maitland and Goode believe that Leinster can be shut down physically.

Maitland said: "For us, it's about matching them physically, they're a team that loves winning the gainline, playing the ball through Johnny (Sexton). It's about stopping their momentum.

"The second thing is stopping their kicking game. Johnny loves to manipulate the backfield, so for me on the wing it's about trying to read his body language and the pictures he presents, and just try to shut that down."

Goode, who may well line out at out-half in Farrell's absence, agrees with his team-mate.

"I watched the Pro14 final and a lot of other games," he said. "They are a very good side but like any side if you can get on the front foot and get them going backwards, you can attack them in various places.

"Games like this are the closest thing you get to Test match rugby.

"It's not gaping things like 'a tighthead can't defend' or 'he is a bit slow' or 'wingers do this'; it is more across the board. You need to win the momentum back, you need to get on the front foot, if you can generate quick ball you can attack them and go at them,, like we did last year.

"It is no different to international rugby, you have to box clever and when you do get your moments you have to have an unbelievable amount of physicality and intent to bust the line. Then any team is susceptible."

Saracens may have been relegated and roundly criticised, they've lost players and their talisman is suspended and yet it's clear their belief levels have not wavered.

Leinster will need to be on their guard.