Leinster will be regarded as heavy favourites to see-off Racing 92 and claim a fourth European crown when the two sides collide in Spain on Saturday the 12th of May, writes Shaun Goosen.
The Irishmen have been unstoppable in the Champions Cup this season, and head into the Grand Finale with a 100% win record across all eight of their previous encounters.
Champions Cup Final 2018
Leinster v Racing 92
12 May 17h45
San Mames, Bilbao
To Win (80 Mins)
Racing 92 36/10
Leo Cullen’s side are just the second team in the tournament’s history to achieve such a feat after Saracens managed it last season, but their run is arguably even more remarkable when one considers the quality of opposition they have faced.
Exeter, the reigning English champions, Montpellier, Top 14 table-toppers, and Pro14 Conference A winners Glasgow. Dublin’s mighty men beat them all – twice – to finish first in Pool 3. Thereafter, a 30-19 quarterfinal win over two-time reigning European Champions, Saracens, as well as a 38-16 semi-final defeat of Pro14 champions, Scarlets, booked Leinster a fourth European final appearance.
The side they will meet in Bilbao this weekend has endured a more difficult passage to the San Memes. Having finished as runners-up to Munster in Pool 4 after losses to the Red Army and Castres, Racing 92 went on to beat Clermont 28-17 at the Stade Marcel-Michelin (no mean feat), and again went into battle with Johann van Graan’s side and ousted them 27-22 in their semi-final.
Jacky Lorenzetti’s men make their second final appearance after having gone down to Saracens in 2016, and have relied on a combination of overseas superstars and home-grown French talent to advance to this year’s decider. For one of the aforementioned foreigners, a certain Mr. Daniel Carter, Saturday’s showdown marks his final outing in the Champions Cup before jettisoning off to the Land of the Rising Sun.
Whether or not the great man is named to start in the blue and white number 10 remains to be seen. His contemporary this weekend, however – a former Les Ciel et Blanc flyhalf himself – is guaranteed to have a defining influence on the outcome.
Johnny Sexton has turned back the clock with some sparkling displays both for club and country this season. His tactical genius has lifted Leinster and Ireland to new heights and the 32-year-old will again be pivotal to Leinster’s chances against his former employers in the final.
Dan Leavy, Cian Healy, and Scott Fardy will have their hands full in dealing with the likes of Leone Nakarawa, Ben Tameifuna, and Yannick Nyanga, but if the Irishmen can match the Racing heavies, Sexton and his lieutenants in the back division will see to the rest.
I’m expecting Leinster to tactically outclass their French opposition. Theirs is a squad brimmed with no less than 18 Irish internationals, and despite the injury-enforced absence of Fergus McFadden, they should canter to victory.
Verdict: Leinster 1/5
Following in the words of the great Stuart Barnes this week: “Fence? What fence?”. Leinster have been on another planet this European season and I don’t expect Racing to keep up with them over the course of the eighty, especially with Maxime Machenaud’s injury. Leinster should take it by a comfortable 10-points or more.