European rugby has got the final it wanted. Four-time winners and defending champions Leinster against 2016 and 2017 winners Saracens in Newcastle on May 11.
Leinster’s 30-12 victory over Toulouse at a sun-kissed Aviva Stadium on Sunday was just as dominant as Saracens’ 32-16 triumph over Munster on Saturday.
It’s the final fans have craved between the winners for the last three years and the two best teams in the competition.
Intriguing match-ups involving internationals of the highest quality will be on show at St James’ Park, the most interesting of which will be the latest duel between Lions stars Owen Farrell and Johnny Sexton.
But, it doesn’t end there, there’s also Mako Vunipola vs Tadhg Furlong in front row, James Ryan vs Maro Itoje at second row, Jack Conan vs Billy Vunipola in the back row and James Lowe vs Liam Williams out wide. Enough to keep any rugby enthusiast entertained for 80 minutes.
Having seen off Toulouse in Dublin, Leinster will be seeking to become the first team to win five Champions Cup titles, while Saracens will be bidding for their third crown in four years.
Leinster were simply too good for their French opponents, beating their off-loading game at source and dominating them aerially. With Sean O’Brien, Devin Toner and Sexton showing sterling form, the reigning champions will not want to relinquish their title too meekly.
Sarries meanwhile have been the stand-out team this year, winning their six pool matches with relative ease and then looking flawless against Glasgow and Munster in the knock-out stages.
Their aerial dominance set the template early on against Munster and they came through that contest relatively unscathed – winning by 16 points. Vunipola may milk the headlines for his try and general involvement, but Jamie George, Itoje and Farrell were also outstanding.
To win in Newcastle will require more class from either side. Leinster may not have scaled the same heights as 2018, but have only lost one game in all competitions this calendar year – against Glasgow two weeks ago – and have comfortably qualified for the PRO14 play-offs.
Both finalists are consistent, can combine power, accuracy and skill with composed minds, and it will undoubtedly take moments of magic to force a breakthrough against their titanic defensive qualities.
It will be a different contest to 12 months ago when Saracens came to Dublin for their quarter-final clash against Leinster and failed to perform in the second half after holding the bulk of possession and territory in the opening 40 minutes.
They targeted Sexton in the opening half, with George Kruis, Richard Wigglesworth and Itoje all putting in crunching hits to derail his composure on the ball.
But small moments win games and Leinster’s ferocity, power and huge defensive efforts helped them secure a 30-19 win and advance to the decider against Racing 92.
Unfortunately, this time around, the totemic Dan Leavy will be sidelined with a complex knee injury. The Ireland flanker was the star of the show in Leinster’s last win over Saracens and his absence will be sorely missed.
But his loss presents O’Brien with another opportunity to sparkle, the Carlow man is back to his best against Toulouse after a number of sub-par displays since the Six Nations.
With 19 days to go until the final, Leinster play Ulster next in the PRO14 next Saturday and Saracens are away to an improved Wasps side. The following weekend, Leinster have a rest week, while Saracens host top of the table Exeter.
With a play-off spot already secured, Mark McCall is likely to rest his key men in that fixture before one of the great finals of the decade. Star men are coming back into form at the right time. It will be a thrilling contest.
Given the personnel and the versatility they have shown, Leinster will go in as slight favourites, but Saracens, sprinkled with class, could shade it.
Barrelhouse Rugby Club’s season drew to a close with a special rugby 10s tournament to celebrate the team’s achievements throughout the 2018/19 campaign.
The event took place in Jebel Ali Shooting Club and Excellence center hosting 19 teams, a combination of men’s and vets sides. In total 43 games took part, playing on two pitches, with close to 300 players competing.
Barrelhouse members have been planning this tournament to the last minute, taking care of every single detail and requirement to host a tournament of this size, setting high standards for social rugby tournaments in the UAE and around the GCC in the process. With colorful testimonials from all the participating clubs, hundreds of rugby fans attended the tournament and were entertained off the field thanks to the sponsors tents set up around the matches.
The tournament ended in victory win for Team Moana who saw off Mediclinic Barrelhouse Warriors in the men’s finals, while in the Vets final, Mussafah Billy Goats were victorious over RockTape Barrelhouse Vandals. Barrelhouse management concluded the day with handing awards for winning teams and acknowledging the sponsors and the clubs for their efforts and participation.
RockTape was the main sponsor for this event providing kinesiology tapes and support on different fronts. Mediclinic provided an all-day ready ambulance with EMT medical care, while Up and Running set up a tent to take care of the players. Al Maya group provided, Pocari Sweat to keep all the players and fans well hydrated, as did Aghthia, who supplied the tournament with Alpin Water. Joseph Group sponsored the catering for all the teams and Redbull provided a huge tent for everyone to relax and enjoy food.
Founded in 1982 in the UAE, Barrelhouse Rugby Club was initially formed to compete at the Dubai Rugby 7’s, however, such is the popularity of the club, the team now has players from all over the world. The club recently expanded their academy to teach and encourage children to get involved in the sport.
Leo Cullen praised Leinster’s application after the defending champions swept aside Toulouse in a 30-12 Heineken Champions Cup semi-final win at the Aviva Stadium.
James Lowe, Luke McGrath and Scott Fardy all touched down and fit-again captain Jonathan Sexton kicked 12 points as the Irish province advanced to face 2017 winners Saracens in a mouth-watering May 11 decider at St James’ Park in Newcastle.
“Probably what pleased me most is the attitude of the players over the course of the last couple of weeks and how they applied themselves in training,” said head coach Cullen.
“When they prepare well, they’ve a much better chance of performing well in these big games. There was great fight for each other. You could see the players, how much it means to them.
“I think the fight to stay in the battle is really important from our guys. I think they showed a lot of resilience, particularly as they (Toulouse) got close to our tryline. They’re good qualities to have in these big games.”
While the returning fly-half Sexton was the official man of the match, the title holders had a number of star performers as they restricted Toulouse to just three penalty goals from Thomas Ramos and one from replacement Romain Ntamack.
Chief among them was London Irish-bound flanker Sean O’Brien, whose return to fitness in recent months has coincided with long-term injuries to Josh Van Der Flier and Dan Leavy.
“Seanie is an unbelievable competitor. He’s worked incredibly hard to get back from his injury. You can see what it means to Seanie the way he plays,” said Cullen.
“I thought he was really exceptional today. It’s not just his performance, it’s how he leads the group.
“In the week, the way he talks. How he understands the threats the opposition pose, both sides of the ball. In terms of dominating that contact area, he’s one of the best players to have ever played the game, certainly Irish guys.
“I think he’s showing again what he’s capable of. It was good to have Seanie back out there.”
Meanwhile, despite the obvious frustration at losing to Leinster in such comprehensive fashion, Toulouse skipper Jerome Kaino was doing his best to remain upbeat.
With a place in the Top 14 Championship’s knock-out stages already assured, the former New Zealand international believes they need to take the positives from their European adventure, which showed they are a resurgent force.
“I think our young group can take a lot of experience from that game,” he said. “It’s disappointing we couldn’t get the result, but I think we still have another challenge ahead of us in the Top 14.
“We’ll take a lot of experience, a lot of positives, from our European Cup campaign.
“I think they (Leinster) were able to build on their momentum. We defended well at times, but we weren’t able to build on our momentum when we did get forward.”
Provided by Press Association Sport