Johnny Sexton v Owen Farrell and other key battles that could decide Leinster versus Saracens

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Four-time winners and defending champions Leinster take on 2016 and 2017 winners Saracens in the Champions Cup final on Saturday.

The Dublin side are looking to become the first team in history to lift the European trophy five times, while Saracens are eyeing a third title in four seasons.

Here’s our key battles ahead of the decider.

TADHG FURLONG V MAKO VUNIPOLA

Vunipola was England’s leading light against Ireland in the Six Nations, and it is hoped his recent solid form will be transferred on to the European stage against an in-form Leinster side.

A devastating performer in the loose, the Saracens man is a totemic presence and will come up against the best No3 in the world in Furlong.

The imposing Leinster player may have the edge in the scrum, but he’ll need plenty of assistance from Cian Healy and Sean Cronin to get the upper hand on a dominant Sarries forward unit.

Could have a significant bearing on the match.

JAMES RYAN V MARO ITOJE

Two quality players who consistently produce big numbers each game.

Both players are different but primed to be future captains for both club and country.

Itoje is a better breakdown threat and pushes the boundaries more with referees, but Ryan is more athletic and brings immense physicality to the contest.

If a Lions team was to be selected tomorrow, Itoje and Ryan would be in the match-day squad.

At 24 and 22 respectively, they are sure to be stars for years to come.

Leinster Rugby v Bath Rugby - Heineken Champions Cup

JOHNNY SEXTON V OWEN FARRELL

Farrell has been in impeccable form since the Six Nations and his on-field presence is a threat to opposition.

Sexton, meanwhile, looked fresh against Toulouse after returning from a quad injury. When he plays well, so does everyone around him.

Both Farrell and Sexton are similar players – feisty, intelligent and excellent decision makers.

Although the Leinster star’s kicking has been off colour, he can still cause serious damage with ball in hand.

Will be central to Saturday’s result.

JACK CONAN V BILLY VUNIPOLA

Conan has brought his game to another level and finally fulfilled the talent he has always promised.

Vunipola missed last season’s Champions Cup quarter-final in Dublin, but was in majestic form in the semi-final win over Munster.

Both players have a priceless ability to get their sides on the front foot, whether it’s exploding off the back of scrums, carrying or simply hauling down opposition attackers.

If Leinster were to win and Conan was to outperform Vunipola, he would be asking serious questions about Ireland’s No8 jersey for the World Cup.

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Barrelhouse Rugby Club will roll into Vietnam for end-of-season tour

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A Kracking time: Barrelhouse boys on tour in Poland last year

As the Dubai rugby season comes to an end, the fun doesn’t stop for Barrelhouse Rugby Club with their annual end-of-season tour. Usually tours are in May or June but thanks to the Rugby World Cup in Japan, the side will travel to Asia for their annual tour. In September the team will travel to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. With an even bigger squad this time round, they will be looking to come away with even more silverware.

Back in 2016 the team traveled to Thailand to take part in the Phuket International 10’s tournament with a small squad of just13 players. The team were victorious as as they were crowned the Beaker winners.

The following year, Warsaw, Poland, was the next challenge, this time with a bigger squad and higher aspirations, it was time to take part in the Warsaw Rugby Festival. Even though Poland is not considered a rugby-playing nation, their ability to host international teams made for an exciting weekend filled with great rugby. This was also where Barrelhouse sported their brand new tour kit, which ended up winning the “best dressed award”

Last year Krakow played hosts to the Barrelhouse team, which saw a squad of 20 players lacing their boots and take the field. The team triumphed in the competition and was crowned as the Krakow Men’s Trophy Winners.

The emphasis for each tour has always been inclusivity, but with this year the Barrelhouse would welcome anyone who wishes to join them on tour for a fun filled weekend of rugby. For more information on dates, cost and availability, reach out to tour manager Michiel Basson on +971525968242.

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Dream final too close to call and other talking points ahead of Leinster v Saracens

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Four-time winners and defending champions Leinster take on 2016 and 2017 winners Saracens in the Champions Cup final on Saturday.

The Dublin side are looking to become the first team in history to lift the European trophy five times, while Saracens are eyeing a third title in four seasons.

Here’s our key talking points ahead of the final.

Dream final too close to call

It’s the decider 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 here, there’s also Mako Vunipola v Tadhg Furlong, James Ryan v Maro Itoje, Jack Conan v Billy Vunipola and James Lowe v Liam Williams.

Enough to keep any rugby enthusiast entertained for 80 minutes.

It will be a different contest to their quarter-final in Dublin 13 months ago when the game never lived up to its hype and Leinster ultimately prevailed by 11 points.

However, with 16 Lions on show this weekend, and the returns of Robbie Henshaw and Billy Vunipola, both of whom were missing from the 2018 clash, it is set up to be a titanic tussle.

Saturday’s final will be as good as any in the history of the competition.

Forcing a breakthrough

Leinster and Saracens have been in imperious form this season – and are both in strong positions to reach domestic finals.

They 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 granite-like defensive qualities.

While Leinster have a solid defence, Saracens have the capacity to overwhelm any team with their big men up front. Especially off the bench, where they can unleash the soaring qualities of Will Skelton and Co late on.

It is important for Leinster to get ahead in this game, exploit weaknesses they’ve identified midweek and ship the ball out wide to the elusive James Lowe at every opportunity. The Kiwi has scored 20 tries in 27 games for the Blues to date.

If Saracens are to gain control early on, Leinster may struggle because the Premiership champions can keep the line together so effectively without making mistakes. And if they are to win penalties, Farrell is rarely going to miss with his unerring right boot.

A single score could be the difference between these teams.

Aerial dominance

Saracens dominated Munster with their aerial superiority and this could be an area to target Leinster.

Although Rob Kearney – one of the best in the business under the high ball – and Lowe will offer far more of a threat than Mike Haley did for Munster two weeks ago, Sarries could opt to target the diminutive Jordan Larmour on the right wing.

The Leinster and Ireland flyer is a class act with the ball, but at 5ft 8in, his weakness in the air could be exploited by Saracens trio of Liam Williams, Sean Maitland and Alex Goode.

One way of minimising this risk is if Leinster block their lines better to cut down the option for Saracens to kick deep.

For all the qualities Leinster have to contest the aerial battle too, Sexton may opt against using his accurate boot too much because of how strong Saracens have performed in this area in recent weeks.

Keeping ball in hand, working through the phases and using the pace of wide men could be the best way for Leinster to stay on the frontfoot.

It’s set up to be a belter.

LIKELY LINE-UPS

Leinster (15-1): Kearney; Larmour, Ringrose, Henshaw, Lowe; Sexton, McGrath; Conan, O’Brien, Fardy; Ryan, Toner; Furlong, Cronin, Healy.

Saracens (15-1): Goode; Maitland, Lozowski, Barritt, Williams; Farrell, Spencer; B Vunipola, Wray, Rhodes; Kruis, Itoje; Lamositele, George, M Vunipola.

Venue: St. James’ Park, Newcastle; Referee: Jerome Garces; Kick-off: 20:00 (UAE time)

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