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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How Leinster and Saracens reached the Champions Cup final

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Four-time winners and defending champions Leinster lock horns against 2016 and 2017 winners Saracens in the Champions Cup final in Newcastle on Saturday.

Leinster’s 30-12 victory over Toulouse at the Aviva Stadium two weeks ago was just as dominant as Saracens’ 32-16 triumph over Munster in the other semi-final.

It’s the final fans have craved between the winners for the last three years and the two best teams in the competition.

Ahead of the match, we take a look back at how both sides reached the final.

LEINSTER (P8, W7, L1)

Round one: Leinster 52-3 Wasps

Round two: Toulouse 28-27 Leinster

Round three: Bath 10-17 Leinster

Round four: Leinster 42-15 Bath

Round five: Leinster 29-13 Toulouse

Round six: Wasps 19-37 Leinster

Quarter-finals: Leinster 21-18 Ulster

Semi-finals: Leinster 30-12 Toulouse

SARACENS (P8, W8, L0)

Round one: Glasgow Warriors 3-13 Saracens

Round two: Saracens 29-10 Lyon

Round three: Saracens 51-25 Cardiff Blues

Round four: Glasgow Warriors 14-26 Saracens

Round five: Lyon 10-28 Saracens

Round six: Saracens 38-19 Cardiff Blues

Quarter-finals: Saracens 56-27 Glasgow Warriors

Semi-finals: Saracens 32-16 Munster

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Leinster and Saracens face off in Champions Cup final but who is rugby's greatest ever club side?

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Four-time winners and defending champions Leinster lock horns against 2016 and 2017 winners Saracens in the Champions Cup final in Newcastle on Saturday.

Leinster’s 30-12 victory over Toulouse at the Aviva Stadium two weeks ago was just as dominant as Saracens’ 32-16 triumph over Munster in the other semi-final.

It’s the final fans have craved between the winners for the last three years and the two best teams in the competition.

And ahead of the match, we take a look back at the greatest club rugby sides over the years.

BATH (1984-1996)

One of the greatest teams of all time.

The Somerset outfit clinched six Premiership titles in eight years and sealed the double on four occasions (1989, 1992, 1994 and 1996).

During eight seasons, they claimed 10 cup wins and six league league titles overall, but could not contend with Europe’s elite until lifting the Heineken Cup in 1998.

LEICESTER (1993-2002)

The Tigers may have clinched the Premiership in 1995 and Anglo-Welsh Cup in 1993 and 1997, but it was from 99 to 02 where they really shone.

Under the captaincy of Martin Johnson, they won four successive Premiership titles and also secured back-to-back Heineken Cups in 2001 and 2002.

During that period, they went 57 games unbeaten at Kingsholm over a five-year spell.

TOULOUSE (1994-2008)

An incredible team.

Over a 14-year period, Toulouse won four Heineken Cups as well as six domestic titles in eight years.

Though only one Heineken Cup and French Championship double was sealed in this period (1996), Le Stade were the leading lights in the game with much of their squad made up of home grown players.

Some of the stars names from this side included Clement Poitrenaud, Vincent Clerc, Florian Fritz, Maxime Medard, Thierry Dusautoir, William Servat, Louis Picamoles and Cedric Heymans.

CRUSADERS (2002-2008)

A golden era for the Christchurch team who won the Super 12 title four times in six years (2002, 2005, 2006 and 2008) as well as finished runners-up twice (2003 and 2004).

Not only did the south Island outift hold more individual records than any other club, they have also provided some of the most influential figures in All Blacks history in Dan Carter, Richie McCaw and Kieran Read.

LEINSTER (2008-2014)

Like the current crop of Leinster stars, this group was dominated by a stellar line-up of mainly homegrown talent.

Under key man Brian O’Driscoll, the Blues purred with dominance and won three PRO12 titles (2008, 2013 and 2014) and three Heineken Cup titles (2009, 2011 and 2012).

Aside from the dominance of O’Driscoll, the Dublin side also boasted international stars in Rob Kearney, Sean O’Brien, Shane Horgan, Gordon D’Arcy, Jamie Heaslip, Cian Healy and Johnny Sexton.

MUNSTER (1999-2011)

The Red Army first won the Heineken Cup in 2006 and lifted it again two years later, beating Toulouse in the final. Lost finals in 2000 and 2005 to Northampton and Leicester, while also winning three Celtic League crowns (2003, 2009 and 2011) and the Celtic Cup in 2005.

Irish legends to come through the ranks at Thomond Park in this time included Paul O’Connell, Ronan O’Gara, Keith Wood, John Hayes, Denis Leamy, David Wallace, Donncha O’Callaghan and Peter Stringer.

TOULON (2011-2015)

Still one of the heavyweights in France – but not the same side that lit up the Top 14 and Europe three years ago.

The mega-rich club clinched three successive Champions Cup titles (2013, 2014 and 2015) but have not been able to transform their sparkling form on to the domestic stage, yielding just one title in 2014.

Some of the marquee names recruited by multimillionaire owner Mourad Boudjellal included Jonny Wilkinson, Bakkies Botha, Bryan Habana, Victor Matfield, Leigh Halfpenny, George Gregan, Ma’a Nonu JP Pietersen, Malakai Fekitoa and Sonny Bill Williams.

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