Friday, May 10, 2019

Preview : Leinster v Saracens

Around this time of year a decade ago, Leinster finally shook that long-running and very annoying "sleeping giant" tag and went on a run that saw us not only claim three European titles in four years, but also set a new standard for the game on the continent.

For the next five years, we probably dropped below those standards a bit, while others definitely rose to meet it.  But last season, we said to the others "right lads, you've had your fun - we're back and we're pissed off!".  And on the way to that fourth star, one of those nine wins from nine was against Saracens, in convincing fashion at the Aviva Stadium I might add.

Now, we meet again, and what a final it promises to be - it's got more intriguing subplots than Game of Thrones and Avengers : Engame combined (sound the pop culture reference klaxon!!!).

Take your pick - you've got Saracens going for their own '3 in 4', there's our own quest to be the first to earn a fifth crown, and across the pitch there's a host of fascinating one-on-one battles starting at out half.

For me, the key to the winning of this match is hidden in a Bermuda Triangle of sorts between the Saracens attack, Leinster's defence and the refereeing of Jérôme Garcès.

In both of our home matches against Toulouse this season, the French tried too hard to adapt their style of play to beat us.  While of course Sarries will have a strategy or two up their sleeve, I reckon they'll be more inclined to stick with the style that got them to where they are.

We know Billy V is going to get some carries, and when he does, he'll bust a gain line or two.  We know Owen Farrell is going to put up some high balls which the likes of Liam Williams will recover.  We also know Alex Goode will join the line at the right moment on occasion and find some space.

But when the Premiership side does those things, it will be in the back of their minds that breaking those gainlines or catching those high balls or finding that space won't be enough, because Leinster's defensive organization has been more than good enough to recover quickly, forcing the opposition to start all over again in the quest for a further breakthrough.

And then there's the referee.  I don't believe in focusing too much on individuals when it comes to officiating; all I want is consistency.  It's true Garcès has had his 'moments' against Irish teams in recent times, but when preparing for a big match you have to be ready to adapt for his interpretations not vice versa, and it will be up to our forwards in particular to be mindful of this.

The way I see it, one of those three factors will be the major talking point come full time on Saturday.  That's not to say Leinster's attack against Saracens defence won't play a part as well, but while Mark McCall's men have been known to be stingy as well, I'm not so concerned about our ability to put a decent amount of points on the board; where the challenge lies is in our ability to stop them.

Normally these match previews lead to a prediction by yours truly, but for this one I'm going to leave you hanging I'm afraid, because I plan to share my final pre-match thoughts with the assembled throng at the Sandymount Hotel on Saturday.

Unfortunately the Newcastle trip was a non-starter for me, but for this event, organised by (Harpin contributors and top-content producers in their own right) Big Joe Shep and Keego, I reckon we have the next best thing - beer, bbq and banter in the shadow of Aviva Stadium with a host of fellow 'keyboard warriors'.   If you too are unable to travel to Toon town I hope you'll join us, all the details can be found here..

If you are making the trip, safe travels and be sure and scream that extra bit louder for us back home. 

Let's do this!!!!  JLP


Heineken Champions Cup Final 2018/2019
Saturday, May 11, 2019
KO 5pm
St James' Park, Newcastle

Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
AR1 : Romain Poite (France)
AR2 : Pascal Gaüzère (France)
TMO: Philippe Bonhoure (France)
Citing commissioner: Stefano Marrama (Italy)


Taken by JLP from RDS press box on Nov 16, 2019