Wednesday 21 August 2019

Leinster v Saracens, head-to-head: Here is how the players rate ahead of Champions Cup final

Jordan Larmour, Owen Farrell and Johnny Sexton
Jordan Larmour, Owen Farrell and Johnny Sexton

Here is how the players rate ahead of the Champions Cup final between Leinster and Saracens.

ROB KEARNEY: Saracens had great joy when kicking to Munster's full-back Mike Haley, but they'll find the Ireland star a tougher nut to crack on what could be the final European appearance of a stellar career in blue. Can do damage if given space. 8

JORDAN LARMOUR: Although he hasn't had many of his trademark show-stopping moments since Chicago, the young gun has beaten more defenders than any of his team-mates and has been ever-present in their campaign. Will be tested in the air. 8

GARRY RINGROSE: Leinster need to ask questions of the Saracens ‘wolf-pack' defence and it is their creator-in-chief in the No 13 jersey who holds the keys. Will be asked plenty of questions defensively and needs to nail his tackles.  9

ROBBIE HENSHAW: Given the array of physical weapons Saracens can unleash, Henshaw's presence as a tackler and ball-carrier will be key for the Irish province. Back fit and firing, the Athlone native can mix it with the best. 9

JAMES LOWE: Missed Leinster's win last season so making up for lost time. His capacity to break the first tackle and stay alive in contact is almost unsurpassed and if he gets any time and space he'll do damage. 9

JOHNNY SEXTON: This is Sexton's stage and Leinster need him to come to the fore as he has done in previous finals. His kicking strategy and capacity to move Saracens around the park will be key, while his attacking execution needs to be on point. 9

LUKE McGRATH: McGrath is a steady hand at the tiller whose accuracy with the boot will be a factor. Can ease the pressure on Sexton with his own decision-making, while his strong defence will be vital around the fringes. 7

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CIAN HEALY: The renaissance man has been sensational for two seasons and his physicality in contact will be a major part of Leinster's defence against the big Sarries ball-carriers. Can be destructive at scrum-time. 9

SEAN CRONIN: His calf injury remains a concern but if he can hit top gear his pace and power can do damage in the wide channels. Saracens' aggressive lineout strategy will test his throw, while he'll need to scrummage well. 8

TADGH FURLONG: A world-leader in his position, this season Furlong has been quieter and Leinster could do with him exploding to life in Newcastle. A big-game player, his ability to bring his destructive carrying and tackling in the loose will be important. 9

DEVIN TONER: Although the loss of Michael Rhodes weakens Sarries' defensive lineout, Toner will still need to be at his best to deliver a clean supply of ball to his backs. Has to get around the park and make his tackles. 8

JAMES RYAN: His work-rate will be at the heart of everything Leinster do well. He will bring a relentlessness to the party that can keep his side going forward, while he also has the smarts and handling skills as he displayed last season. 9

SCOTT FARDY: A class act who will relish the referee's loose approach at the breakdown. Athletically gifted, he can shift but he is well able to mix it in the tight if needed. An all-rounder, he offers a poach threat to boot. 8

SEAN O'BRIEN: Back close to his best against Toulouse and making his final European appearance in blue, O'Brien is primed to roll back the years and deliver a big performance. If he can win collisions and free his hands, his team will be on a winner. 8

JACK CONAN: One of the players of the season, the No 8 has been a match-winner for his team this season and his high-energy work ethic is matched by leadership and a capacity to show up with big moments. Can secure his World Cup spot here. 8

ON THE BENCH: The big fear for Leinster is that their bench can't get the job done for them. Without Jamison Gibson-Park, the inexperienced Hugh O'Sullivan needs the game of his life if required, while Michael Bent (left) and the out-of-sorts Jack McGrath are concerns.  6

COACH: Cullen would be the first to point to the collective coaching effort and between them the Leinster coaching ticket, driven by Stuart Lancaster, have the smarts to come up with a plan to trouble Saracens and adapt to the game as it goes. 8

 

SARACENS

ALEX GOODE: Strangely ignored by England, Goode is a superb decision-maker who brings calm to the Saracens back-field and offers plenty of threat when they have the ball as an alternative distributor to Farrell. Tops the stats across the board. 8

SEAN MAITLAND: Missed the semi-final with injury, but comes straight back into the team where he'll be tasked with winning high balls while also dealing with his fellow New Zealander James Lowe's threat.  8

ALEX LOZOWSKI: Formerly an out-half, Lozowski looks increasingly comfortable in the Saracens midfield where his Henry Slade-like capacity to game-break and play-make is impressive. 8

BRAD BARRITT: One of the toughest players around, he couldn't make it past half-time on his comeback against Munster but he'll be better set for this one. Leads the Saracens defence relentlessly and make tackles, but has a lot of miles on the clock. 8

LIAM WILLIAMS: A superb broken-field runner who can blow a tight game wide open, he'll punish any loose kicking but can be got at in the air if the chase is right. His battle with Jordan Larmour will be fascinating if either gets time and space. 9

OWEN FARFRELL: The England out-half is a class act who can dominate a game from start to finish through his force of personality. Leinster will need to disrupt the flow of possession to the out-half at source. 9

BEN SPENCER: One of the less-heralded members of the team, Spencer was outstanding against Munster and keeps Richard Wigglesworth out of the team. His box-kicking can bring Sarries' danger men into the game. 8

MAKO VUNIPOLA: Now fully fit, the destructive Vunipola is a world-class player whose physical gifts are matched by a game intelligence. Furlong will fancy his chances of forcing errors at scrum-time, but there are not many flaws in his game. 9

JAMIE GEORGE: The Lions' starting hooker is squeaky clean at set-piece time and shifts his big frame around the park with great effect. Those rumbling runs off the back of mauls are a feature and if he's going forward Leinster are in trouble. 9

TITI LAMOSITELE: Keeps the experienced Springbok Vincent Koch out of the team and Healy will sense a chance to get some joy at scrum-time. An excellent carrier, he's one of a host of options who keep Sarries going forward. 8

WILL SKELTON: The giant Wallaby weakens Saracens' lineout options, but his size cannot be discounted around the park where he uses his 19 stone to good effect. Work-rate was an issue, but the club have got him motoring and he can have a big influence. 8

GEORGE KRUIS: Saracens' lineout strategist is an experienced leader of this team who will do battle with Toner out of touch. Gets involved around the pitch, even if he doesn't carry the same weight into contact as some of his team-mates. 8

MARO ITOJE: Itoje is a world-class lock who can cover the blindside, but it could be argued that the position is not his best. Gives him freedom to get around the park where he can be destructive, but he needs to hold his discipline. 9

JACKSON WRAY: One of the few uncapped players on the pitch, Wray is a cracking club player whose work is often unheralded. Not the greatest breakdown threat, his work-rate is his selling point and he'll tackle all day. 7

BILLY VUNIPOLA: The villain of the piece three weeks ago, Vunipola caused Munster all sorts of problems with his powerful ball-carrying. Lurks in the back-field waiting for loose kicks and has excellent hands when  defences expect power.  9

ON THE BENCH: Potentially the point of difference, Saracens have experienced internationals to come on during the second half with Springboks Vincent Koch and Schalk Burger (right) liable to have a big influence.  8

THE COACH: A clever operator who has built a formidable team, McCall's game-plan is simple but very, very effective. If his team can get in front they'll stay there. Leinster must force him to think on the run. 8

 

TOTAL

Leinster: 140/170

Saracens: 141/170

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