It’s the final that every rugby neutral wanted to see and tomorrow we will hope that it is the final that will live up to those high expectations.
Unbeaten Saracens, in their home country, will face the 4-time champions from Dublin at St. James’ Park in Newcastle.
Saracens have so far been imperious in the competition up to this point. They waltzed through their group without getting out of second gear and when they finally met a higher calibre of opposition in the guise of Munster, they steamrolled them in a performance full of power, dominance and control.
Leinster’s passage wasn’t quite as clear cut as their North London rivals but they only lost once, away in Toulouse, before exacting revenge in the semi-finals at the Aviva Stadium.
Other than the dismantling of Bath earlier in the competition, this was easily the men in blue’s best performance of the competition.
The accuracy of their play, coupled with the clinically honed finishing we have become accustomed to in Ireland’s capital, meant they were never in any trouble.
How they’d love to overtake Toulouse and be the first team to add a fifth golden star to their jerseys for next season.
For them to do just that, they will need to counter the Saracens style of play that is based around exerting a huge amount of pressure and power onto their opposition until they eventually snap.
When Leinster have the ball, they must keep it – for long periods of time.
Although they have to worry about Sarries and what they bring to the match, they shouldn’t move away from their own game plan as it can be just as devastating.
In defence they like to chop you down and get over the ball. Sean O’Brien, in his last game for Leinster before a move to London Irish, will be pivotal in that area of the game alongside the evergreen Scott Fardy or returning Rhys Ruddock. It will be an area that the Dubliners will target to find some ascendency for sure.
Mark McCall has, over the years, worked out how to get this Saracens team to tick at exactly the right times. The player management has improved with that, as the workload has been shared across the season. Watching the way they played against Munster, you’d have been forgiven for thinking it was the beginning of the season and not the end of a gruelling one. They looked fresh and were full of running. Threats everywhere in the back line that were only accentuated because of the holes Mako & Billy Vunipola and Maro Itoje were boring into the defence.
The individual battles across the park are what really make this match salivating though.
Mako v Furlong, Itoje & Kruis v Toner & Ryan, Billy v Conan, Farrell v Sexton, Barritt v Henshaw and Williams v Larmour & Lowe are just a few of the main acts.
The headline act that jumps out off the page is the one between the top two fly halves in the competition. One of Johnny Sexton or Owen Farrell will probably be the face you’ll see on the back pages with your Sunday morning croissant but their part in this dramatic play can only be read if the big men in front of them secure the sort of ball that they thrive off. What happens in front of them will be pivotal.
Up front is where this game will be won or lost and up front is where it is hardest to predict who will have the upper hand.
There are no obvious weak points in either team’s pack. Leinster may have the edge in the front row but then Saracens probably edge the row behind that. When I say edge, I mean exactly that.
Saracens’ defence and ball carriers are where I believe they have the biggest of those edges and could well be the deciding factor on Saturday.
Leinster have fantastic ball carriers within their pack but all eight of the Saracens pack can be destructive. If one man is allowed to break a tackle then the rest pour through and help to make significant gains.
When they don’t have the ball their mindset is to attack as well.
Suffocate the opposition attack and force them into making mistakes or simply over run them with numbers.
Leinster will have prepared for that but sometimes there comes moments when preparation simply isn’t enough.
One thing is certain though and that is we will have a battle of epic proportions for our viewing pleasure. 32 tries a piece in the competition so far and that number will be sure to rise on Saturday.
A glut of points should be the order of the day and the one thing that won’t be argued after is that whoever lifts the trophy, that they don’t deserve to be called the best team in Europe.