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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