Monday 16 September 2019

'We want five stars' - Jack Conan targeting 'historic' achievement with Leinster in Champions Cup final

Jack Conan of Leinster following the European Rugby Champions Cup Final match between Leinster and Racing 92 at the San Mames Stadium in Bilbao, Spain. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Jack Conan of Leinster following the European Rugby Champions Cup Final match between Leinster and Racing 92 at the San Mames Stadium in Bilbao, Spain. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Will Slattery

Will Slattery

Leinster back row Jack Conan says that the team would love to be the first side in European Cup history to claim the 'historic' achievement of winning the tournament five times.

Reigning champions Leinster will face Saracens in the Champions Cup final in Newcastle on May 11, with the English giants taking home the trophy in both 2016 and 2017. This year's final represents the first time ever that the previous two winners of the competition have met in the final and a victory for Leinster will put them out on their own in the roll of honour.

Currently, Leinster's four triumphs in 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2018 is matched by Toulouse's four victories, and Conan is keen to be part of a fifth win.

Speaking on The Left Wing, Independent.ie's rugby podcast, Conan said that the prospect of making history is something that the players have considered.

"We want five stars," Conan said.

"We absolutely want to be the first team to do it. It is historic. It's not our main focus or driving point but it's definitely something in the back of our heads. It would put us in a special place in European rugby history if we go on to be the first team to do it. Especially to go back-to-back, not many teams have done that. It is going to be some game."

Leinster beat Saracens comfortably in the quarter-final last season en route to glory but the English side have bounced back this year, reaching the final after winning all six of their pool games. The bookies currently have it as a 50/50 game and Conan is relishing the chance to test himself against one of Europe's best teams.

"It is going to be a hell of an 80 minutes," Conan said.

"I do think that the two best teams in Europe will be going at it in the final. To be the best, you have to beat the best. They are performing like one of the best sides in Europe. Domestically in the Premiership, they have been fantastic. It is going to be an incredibly tough 80 minutes. They are a real power side. Billy Vunipola, Maro Itoje, Mako Vunipola - he is like having an extra back row.

"They have a lot of threats that we have to nullify on the day to get the outcome that we want."

One man who was missing from last year's encounter was Saracens number eight Billy Vunipola. The big ball carrier has been in the spotlight recently for controversial social media posts but on the pitch he delivered a man of the match performance against Munster in the Champions Cup semi-final.

Conan is likely to be the number eight opposite Vunipola in Newcastle but says that it will take a team effort to keep him quiet - and that it could have a big impact on the game.

"Billy Vunipola didn't play last year," Conan said.

"It's not reallly going head-to-head with him, there are 14 other lads. I might get to tackle him once or twice if I am playing. It's not like a direct match-up against one other person. I think everything needs to be on their toes because he really is a talisman for them. When he gets going forward he is really difficult to stop because he has so many strings to his bow, whether it is powerful hard running or a deft touch with his hands. He has incredible ball-playing ability and good feet as well. If we can get into him then it will go a long way towards winning the game."

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