Sunday 22 July 2018

Leinster-Racing 92 combined XV: Leinster have the edge ahead of Champions Cup final

Teddy Thomas (left) and Robbie Henshaw (right).
Teddy Thomas (left) and Robbie Henshaw (right).

Sam Roberts

Leinster travel to Bilbao to take on Racing 92 in the final of the European Champions Cup this Saturday, and they will be met by a team loaded with talent from across the globe.

The French club made it to the final with a 27-22 semi-final victory over Munster after a devastating first half blitz, which saw them score three tries in the opening 23 minutes.

Meanwhile, Leinster established themselves as perhaps the form team in Europe with victory over the defending champions Saracens in the quarter-finals, followed by a comprehensive dismantling of the Scarlets at the Aviva Stadium.

Considering only the players available for selection this weekend, we have chosen our combined Leinster-Racing starting XV:

1. Cian Healy (Leinster)

The 30-year-old Healy has undergone something of a career resurgence over the last 18 months, demonstrated by the fact he has forced the outstanding Jack McGrath to the bench for both Leinster and Ireland. He has been influential throughout the knockout stages so far, and expect him to deliver again on Saturday.

2. Camille Chat (Racing 92)

An area of relative weakness in this combined side. Sean Cronin can be devastating in open field, and the 22 year-old Chat is a very promising talent, but neither would have any claims to be among Europe's finest, unlike the majority of those on this list.

3. Tadhg Furlong (Leinster)

Not only is the Wexford man the best tighthead in Ireland, by broad agreement he is now the best in the world. An easy choice.

4. Leone Nakarawa (Racing 92)

A box-office second-row, if there is such a thing, Nakawara brings Racing a Fijian flair. Capable of getting his hands free in any situation, if Leinster don't chop him down early, the offloads will start flowing.

5. James Ryan (Leinster)

Still unbeaten in a professional career that could not have gone much better to date. Not only is the 21-year-old the future of Leinster and Irish rugby, he is the present too.

6. Scott Fardy (Leinster)

A deserved man-of-the-match in the semi-final, and now a vital member of the Leinster squad. Another easy selection.

7. Dan Leavy (Leinster)

Man-of-the-match in the quarter-final against Saracens, Leavy has been operating on a world-class level for much of this season. Bernard Le Roux is industrious, but can't match the heights Leavy has scaled at times this season.

8. Yannick Nyanga (Racing 92)

The French international is one of the most athletic forwards in world rugby, and despite Leinster's absurd collection of backrow talent he finds a place on this team. A thorn in Irish sides during his time at Toulouse, he will likely be so again on Saturday.

9. Luke McGrath (Leinster)

Had Machenaud been fit to play this Saturday, we would have given him the nod but in his absence, McGrath makes the cut. He missed out on the semi-final through injury but it is set to make his return for what will be his first European final.

10. Johnny Sexton (Leinster)

With both Pat Lambie and perhaps the greatest out-half of all time in Dan Carter at their disposal, Racing are well stocked at number ten, but 2018 is Johnny Sexton's year. The best in Europe certainly, and the best in the world arguably.

11. Teddy Thomas (Racing 92)

The French international will have put Leinster on notice as he tore Munster apart in the semi-finals, scoring two tries and generously giving up the opportunity to score his third to Machenaud, and for all Leinster's attacking talent they can be fragile out wide. If they show weakness on Saturday, Thomas will expose it.

12. Robbie Henshaw (Leinster)

Returning from serious injury against the Scarlets, but from the very first minute he looked at home. A ferocious competitor with an all-round skill-set to match.

13. Garry Ringrose (Leinster)

While so far this campaign he hasn't recreated the magic of his semi-final wonder-try against Clermont last season, Ringrose has matured from the raw talent that emerged two years ago, and his improved defence will be tested against the devastating running game of Virimi Vakatawa.

14. James Lowe (Leinster)

With Luke McGrath winning his battle for fitness and Fergus McFadden out for the rest of the season, New Zealander Lowe is likely to be the preferred overseas player for the final after missing out on Leinster's rout of the Scarlets. With nine tries in 11 appearances since joining halfway through the season, Lowe has established himself as one of the men in blue's brightest attacking sparks.

15. Pat Lambie (Racing 92)

The South African international is versatile and talented enough to justify playing 'out of position', although it should be noted that the composure and experience of Rob Kearney is perfectly suited to the big games, and this will certainly be one of them.

Online Editors

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