Monday 28 May 2018

Five reasons why Saracens are nightmare opponents for Leinster in the Champions Cup

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen ahead of the European Rugby Champions Cup Pool 3 Round 6 match between Montpellier and Leinster at the Altrad Stadium in Montpellier, France. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Leinster head coach Leo Cullen ahead of the European Rugby Champions Cup Pool 3 Round 6 match between Montpellier and Leinster at the Altrad Stadium in Montpellier, France. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Des Berry

It is no secret that Saracens were the last club any of the top-four seeds wanted in the Champions Cup quarter-finals.

The English club is hunting a third straight Champions Cup to overtake the accomplishments of Leinster’s three trophies in four years from 2009-to-2012 and to equal Toulon’s haul of three in a row from 2013 to 2015.

“If you’re going to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best,” said coach Cullen.

Leinster will have to do so in what could become their worst nightmare.  

BEEN THERE, DONE THAT

Saracens had to suffer long and hard before they reached the Promised Land.

In 2013, they were taken by Toulon (24-12) in the semi-final.

In 2014, Toulon tore them open again (23-6) in the final.

In 2015, Clermont-Auvergne escorted them out the door in the semi-final (13-9).

In 2016, they shed heartbreak to grab glory against Racing 92 (21-9).

In 2017, the call of greatness came when going back-to-back, beating Clermont (28-17).

MEN ON A MISSION

Leinster and Ireland’s decorated full-back Rob Kearney has often spoken about how winning makes you greedy. 

The more you get, the more you want. and Saracens are chasing Toulon as the second club to record a hat-trick.

THE SILENT ASSASSIN

Former Bangor, Ulster and Ireland centre Mark McCall has been the one senior coaching constant in the rise of Saracens.

Brendan Venter, Andy Farrell, Paul Gustard and Steve Borthwick have all come and gone. 

McCall has the edge in experience, as a winning coach, over Stuart Lancaster and Leo Cullen.

SIX NATIONS DRAIN

The 2018 Six Nations will conclude on the hallowed turf of Twickenham on St Patrick’s Day.

Two weeks later, Leinster will have to knit together a team with what is left of their Ireland brigade.  

When Ireland coach Joe Schmidt revealed his squad for the first two rounds, there were 18 Leinster men included, exactly half of the squad.

There is little argument that, fitness permitting, Rob Kearney, Robbie Henshaw, Jonathan Sexton, Cian Healy, Tadhg Furlong and Devin Toner will soldier on for most of the five rounds.  

There are others, like Jack McGrath, James Ryan, Josh van der Flier and Dan Leavy, who could play a significant role.

Then, there is the temptation for Schmidt to throw Joey Carbery, with little match practice, Jordan Larmour and Andrew Porter into the action.   

In contrast, Saracens have had eight players named in Eddie Jones’ squad for the first round against Italy.

OVERSEAS OPTIONS

Sarries also have the international core of three Springboks, two Argentineans, Wales’ Liam Williams, US Eagle Chris Wyles, Scotland’s Sean Maitland and uncapped South African hardman Michael Rhodes. 

This stands up well against Leinster’s Isa Nacewa and two out of three ‘non-Europeans’ in Jamison Gibson-Park, Scott Fardy and James Lowe. 

Online Editors

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