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European Champions Cup opposition preview: The Final

Rich Dore
10 May 2018

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A super Spanish Saturday awaits Leinster Rugby fans this weekend as their side head into a European Champions Cup final clash against Racing 92 in Bilbao.

The final appearance is another marker hit in what’s been a stellar season so far for Leo Cullen’s men, with some scintillating rugby played by his side both in Europe and in the Guinness PRO14.

Three-time champions Leinster come into Saturday’s match in fine fettle, but here we take a look at how Racing are shaping up.

Saturday 12 May

Kick-off: 16:45, San Mamés Stadium, Bilbao

Referee: Wayne Barnes

PEDIGREE

Leinster’s three wins in the competition of course came in a golden period which saw the trophy lifted in 2009, 2011 and 2012 – whilst a win on Saturday would put them level on four triumphs with record-holders Toulouse.

Racing have never won the Champions Cup but did make it to the final in the 2015-16 season, in Lyon.

They were defeated that day by Saracens, 21-9, with seven Owen Farrell penalties outdoing three from Johan Goosen.

The following season Racing’s European form almost completely deserted them as they finished bottom of their pool, form that has most certainly returned this year.

FORM

In Europe of course Racing are in excellent form, having come through an away quarter-final against Clermont Auvergne 28-17, no mean feat, before beating Munster Rugby in the semi-final.

That game against Munster just over a fortnight ago, which Racing won 27-22, displayed awesome power in the first half followed by staunch defence in the second, sprinkled with stardust from Teddy Thomas and Virimi Vakatawa.

Prior to that the Parisians finished second in Pool Four behind Munster, with four wins from their six matches.

Racing are also enjoying a strong campaign domestically and finished the Top14 season second in the table with a semi-final to come – they’ve also registered sizeable wins in their previous two matches against Agen and Bordeaux Begles.

THE TEAM

Racing, led by coaches Laurent Travers and Laurent Labit, are possessing of a star-studded team that includes the likes of Thomas, Vakatawa, Leone Nakarawa and Camille Chat.

Giant Fijian lock Nakarawa is one of five shortlisted for the European Player of the Year Award, with teammate Maxime Machenaud and Scott Fardy, Tadhg Furlong and Johnny Sexton the others nominated.

Nakarawa is the offload-king of Europe and whilst the loss of Machenaud to injury could be key, his likely replacement Teddy Iribaren is not a bad scrum-half to bring in.

Pat Lambie was preferred at fly-half against Munster in the semi-final but there is a selection issue pending over his not-bad-alternative – Dan Carter.

Expect Thomas and Vakatawa to bring the fireworks whilst flanker Wenceslas Lauret has also had a fine 2017-18 and poses significant threat to Leinster’s chances.

Guinness PRO14 Final 2018 Ticket Information: Prices start at just €50 at www.ticketmaster.ie with tickets available to suit every experience.
To book hospitality visit: https://www.pro14rugby.org/hospitality
For Travel packages visit: https://www.pro14rugby.org/travel-packages
For Fanzone & Dublin 7s visithttp://www.dublin7sfestival.ie

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