Guest writer Matt Bardell previews Saracens quarter final clash with Leinster this Sunday.
This weekend sees the return of European Rugby after a two month absence, with some enthralling games in store over the course of the Easter weekend. English eyes will be on Dublin, where Saracens will be looking to defeat Leinster on their quest for further European glory. The London based side have won the competition the past two seasons, looking to draw level with Toulon with a record three titles in succession.
Strangely for Saracens, they go into the game as severe underdogs, with their hosts being the form side in the Champions Cup and Sarries far from perfect thus far this campaign.
Saracens’ season has been patchy, yet they stride into April with serious title ambitions in both domestic and European competitions. The current champions head into the play-offs with serious expectation to go further in both major competitions. A strong end to 2017 and a good January saw Mark McCall’s men recover from their longest winless run in years to qualify for Europe by the skin of their teeth and in a good position in the Premiership.
Two wins from four in the Six Nations period was a good return considering the players absent through international call-ups and injury. A comfortable-ish 24-11 win over Harlequins at the London Stadium on Saturday saw a return to form for Maro Itoje, but there’s concern over the fitness of Owen Farrell and George Kruis, who both missed the match. They are also dented by the news that Billy Vunipola will not win the race to fitness in time for the Dublin clash after suffering a broken forearm against Ospreys during the pool stages. However, positive news came the way of the Wolf Pack yesterday with the welcome news that captain Brad Barritt would recover in time to captain his side against Leinster. When you consider the former England international had a metal plate inserted in his cheek Tuesday, it makes the feat even more impressive.
Leinster, on the other hand, come into the game on the back of a rare defeat - 32-18 to Ospreys - although it is worth noting that this was without the vast majority of their international contingent. They are unbeaten in the Champions Cup so far, having won 6 out of 6 in the group stages, no mean feat in a pool which included the current league leaders of the French, English and Celtic leagues. On top of this, the Irish Grand Slam success was heavily influenced by the Dubliners, meaning the side will go into the game full of confidence and in-form internationals fresh off a Grand Slam and jump to second in the world rankings.
Can Saracens win?
Form often goes out the window in these sort of games, and the Londoners will certainly be hoping this stays true. They have twice won away in the quarter finals of Europe – Ulster in 2014 and Racing in 2015. Saracens will be confident that their best should at least make it competitive, and they have a knack of raising their game in Europe, despite this season’s struggles in the group stages.
The two sides haven’t met since 2011, when Leinster did the double over their opponents in the Heineken Cup group stages, although they will be aware this is a very different Saracens side with far more European pedigree. The home side go into the game as 1-2 favourites at the bookies – whereas an away win is priced at 2-1. It’s certainly going to be a humdinger of a clash!
Match details: Leinster vs Saracens
Venue: Aviva Stadium
Kick-off time: 3:30PM
Referee: Jerome Garces
TV Channel: BT Sport 1