Leinster and Saracens have confirmed their respective 23-man squads for the Champions Cup Final in Newcastle’s St. James’ Park on Saturday at 17 00.
The mouth-watering clash which sees Leinster chasing a record fifth European crown take on Saracens who are looking for a third European title in four years is being hyped up as the biggest final ever and when you see the teams you can see why.
Leinster have named an unchanged XV from the one that comfortably dispatched of Toulouse in the semi-finals. While Saracens have made only two changes to their fifteen that saw off Munster in their last-four tie.
That means that Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong remain in the prop positions alongside a fit-again Sean Cronin, who has recovered from a calf-injury that he picked up in the game against the French giants.
Devin Toner and James Ryan lock down behind them in the second-row, with Scott Fardy, Sean O’Brien and Jack Conan making up the pack at six, seven and eight respectively.
Luke McGrath begins the match in a half-back partnership with captain Johnny Sexton, as Ireland centre duo Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose take the 12 and 13 jerseys.
James Lowe continues on the left-wing having missed last years final, with Jordan Larmour on the right and Rob Kearney at full-back.
The reigning champions have plenty of depth on the bench as well with James Tracy and Michael Bent, joined by the surprise selection of Jack McGrath as the front-row replacements.
Rhys Ruddock, Max Deegan, Hugh O’Sullivan, Ross Byrne and Rory O’Loughlin make up a strong subs-bench for the boys in blue.
Leinster head coach Leo Cullen is well-aware of the opportunity his side have to become the first side to win five European Cups and admits it is in their heads.
“It’s in the back of everyone’s minds, we know it’s there,” he said when asked about the prospect.
While lock James Ryan has told his teammates that they will need to produce a big game if they are to come out on top on Saturday.
“We’re going to need a season-best performance this weekend,” he said.
The formidable Saracens stand between Leinster and history and they have named as strong a side as possible.
England powerhouse Mako Vunipola opens the game alongside Jamie George and Titi Lamositele in the front-three.
The only change in the pack sees Will Skelton come into the second-row beside George Kruis, with Maro Itoje shifting to blindside flanker, to partner Jackson Wray and Billy Vunipola in the back-row as Michael Rhodes misses out through injury.
Ben Spencer is at scrum-half, with Owen Farrell at fly-half. Captain Brad Barritt has been passed fit for the showdown and is joined by Alex Lozowski in the centre.
Wales star-man Liam Williams is on the left-wing, with Scotland speedster Sean Maitland on the right and Alex Goode finishing the starting line-up at 15.
Just like Leinster, Sarries have a vast amount of quality to call upon from the bench.
Joe Gray, Richard Barrington, Vincent Koch, Nick Isiekwe and Schalke Burger are the forwards replacements while Richard Wigglesworth, Nick Tompkins and David Strettle cover the back-line.
Speaking ahead of the match Saracens No 9 Wigglesworth has told the media that their previous final losses make them a better team in finals today.
“We suffered a lot of pain in Europe before winning in the Lyon rain (against Racing 92 in 2016). The feeling that day was relief because we had put it to bed. The best thing now is that there is no sense of panic; that is not bought, but comes from experience. We can react to pressure and get the job done. When we lost before, it tended to be because we were unable to cope with it but, if Leinster win, it will be because they were the better team,” he said.
Saracens are the only unbeaten team in this seasons Champions Cup while Leinster have only lost one game to Toulouse by a single point, 28-27.
With that in mind and the history they have created, here are five key match-ups to look out for on Saturday.
Cian Healy vs Mako Vunipola:
Although they won’t be on the same side of the scrum, these are possibly the two best looseheads in the game. Healy is going for his fifth crown while Vunipola will be determined to make his mark on the game with another dominant display. Both are key at the breakdown and big ball carriers, however, both have faced injury worries over the past few years and will be hoping that they can remain on the itch as long as they can to help their team. In a clash of titans all over the pitch, the men in the No 1 jerseys could hold the key to where this match is won or lost.
Devin Toner vs Will Skelton:
This is an interesting one as everyone thought we would be looking at Ryan vs Itoje, however, this will be an entirely different beast for Toner to cope with as Michael Rhodes sits the game out. The man mountain that is Skelton will make as many carries as Leinster’s Ryan and it will be a big decision as to whether Toner or Ryan take on the Australian in open play.
Both Toner and Skelton will be essential to their side’s line-out and creating a clean attacking platform if chances arrive. The set-piece and breakdown are vital in a match where no errors will be allowed and these two will have some battle in the air.
Jack Conan vs Billy Vunipola:
Conan has really come into his own in the past few months, but this will be his toughest challenge yet. These are possibly Ireland and England’s starting No 8’s for the World Cup and both will want to make a marker on the biggest stage.
Although different in size and shape, the two are similar in play as they both carry with shear power and speed, while either one can produce a moment of magic when needed. Leading from the back of the scrum is a huge role, while a sniping run off the back of a ruck from either one could be the winning of this game if they seize their opportunity.
Johnny Sexton vs Owen Farrell:
The last time these two met in the Six Nations Farrell was in form while Sexton was off-colour, and we saw what happened. This time it looks as though both will be at their best, with last years’ world player of the year taking on a very possible future holder of that title.
Sexton plays on the gain-line, while Farrell is not afraid to put in a massive hit on any player and will take any chance he gets to put Sexton on his backside. That is before we take into account the kicking abilities of both, which as we know from previous finals, the finest margins come between teams, meaning accuracy from the tee will be crucial.
James Lowe vs Sean Maitland:
Big carrying, hard-hitting James Lowe will be looking to make up for missing the final last season and will have a difficult time against Scotland legend Sean Maitland. Lowe brings a certain sparkle to the game that others dream of having and Maitland will have to keep an eye on his man, or he will walk all over him.
However, Lowe’s defensive abilities will be tested here as Maitland will take any chance to counter that he can and is solid in the air. Both defences are rock-solid, but you wouldn’t bet on either keeping out these men if they are on form for the 80 minutes.
All fifteen players on the pitch have a titanic match-up with their opposite number as the majority of them are proven international players and that is what sets this final apart. Which is why you won’t want to miss this match wherever you are.
Whatever happens, this is the game rugby fans have wanted to see for a long time now and it is almost upon us. These are the two best teams in Europe over the past few years and it may be safe to say that the winner of this will not only be crowned winners of the Champions Cup this season, but perhaps the ultimate champions of European rugby since the competition started.
Ulster make changes for Toulouse
The Ulster match-day squad has been named for the Second Leg of the Heineken Champions Cup Round of 16 versus Toulouse at Kingspan Stadium on Saturday evening.
Nick Timoney will make his 100th appearance for the Ulster men, as he is named to start at openside – with Marcus Rea at blindside and Duane Vermeulen at Number Eight. Andrew Warwick comes in to start at loosehead, and will pack down with Rob Herring at hooker and Marty Moore at tighthead. Captain Iain Henderson will partner with Alan O’Connor in the engine room.
Mike Lowry and Rob Baloucoune, who signed new 3-year contract extensions this week, are named at full-back and on the right wing respectively. Ethan McIlroy returns to take the left-wing starting berth. Stuart McCloskey and James Hume will form the midfield partnership, and John Cooney and Billy Burns are retained at scrum-half and out-half.
Brad Roberts, Eric O’Sullivan, Tom O’Toole, Kieran Treadwell and Jordi Murphy will provide forward reinforcements, while Nathan Doak, Luke Marshall and Rob Lyttle will offer back line cover.
Ulster team to play Toulouse, Heineken Champions Cup Round of 16 Second Leg, Saturday 16 April at Kingspan Stadium, 8pm kick-off, live on BT Sport, beIN Sports, and Sky Italia:
(15-9) Mike Lowry, Rob Baloucoune, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Ethan McIlroy, Billy Burns, John Cooney;
(1-8) Andrew Warwick, Rob Herring, Marty Moore, Alan O’Connor, Iain Henderson (Capt.), Marcus Rea, Nick Timoney, Duane Vermeulen.
Replacements: Brad Roberts, Eric O’Sullivan, Tom O’Toole, Kieran Treadwell, Jordi Murphy, Nathan Doak, Luke Marshall, Rob Lyttle.
Graham Rowntree Confirmed As Next Munster Head Coach
Munster Rugby and the IRFU are pleased to confirm that Graham Rowntree will be promoted from Forwards Coach to the role of Head Coach from July 1, 2022.
Rowntree will commence the role of Head Coach at the start of the 2022/23 season after signing a two-year deal.
The former England prop made the move to Limerick in October 2019 on completion of his Rugby World Cup coaching duties with Georgia Rugby.
In his third season as Forwards Coach Graham and family have settled well into Limerick life, noting earlier this year, “I have made my thoughts about this club widely known throughout my time so far, and for me and my family it really has been an easy decision, a non-decision if truth be told.
“We’ve put down roots here and have no desire to move anywhere else.”
With an impressive coaching CV and vast experience, Rowntree previously held coaching roles with the British and Irish Lions, England Rugby, Harlequins and Leicester Tigers.
Working closely with the IRFU, the province will advance with next steps in securing the backroom team that will work with Graham from next season as Head Coach Johann van Graan, Senior Coach Stephen Larkham, and Defence Coach JP Ferreira depart the province at the end of June.
IRFU Performance Director, David Nucifora, commented, “I would like to thank the Munster Professional Game Committee for their work and diligence during this process.
“It is important that Munster have someone who understands the unique history and culture of the club and has the experience to maximise the talent in the squad.
“Graham was very impressive throughout this process and demonstrated he has the capabilities to spearhead the next chapter of Munster Rugby.”
On confirmation of the promotion, Graham Rowntree added, “I am hugely honoured to be taking over the role of Head Coach for a club of this calibre, one that means so much to me and my family.
“We have thoroughly enjoyed every moment here and I fortunately get to work with an incredible group of staff and players who share a common goal each day in striving for success for this club.
“I’ve talked about our fantastic supporters before and again at the weekend we stepped off the bus to a huge red welcome in Exeter. Who doesn’t want to be part of that, that’s special!
“I believe we have the established structures in place with the resources and facilities to match and that it will be a smooth transition for the coaching ticket we assemble in ensuring continued development and success for this club.
“Before then I have a role to complete this season and working closely with Johann, Steve, and JP is the immediate focus and priority for now.”
Commenting on the appointment, Munster Rugby CEO Ian Flanagan said, “Graham’s extensive coaching experience and knowledge for the game makes him the perfect candidate to lead this squad forward.
“With Graham stepping up at the start of the new season it will be a seamless and natural progression from the work that has been carried out to-date.
“For now, we will continue our focus on the remainder of this season with Graham supporting Johann and the coaching staff in achieving our goals.”
Munster Rugby Home Fixtures
Saturday, April 16
Champions Cup Round of 16: Munster v Exeter Chiefs, Thomond Park, 3pm; Buy tickets here
Friday, April 29
URC: Munster v Cardiff Rugby, Musgrave Park, 7.35pm; Buy tickets here
Images & Content from Munster Rugby
Ulster name team for Toulouse
The Ulster match-day squad has been selected for the first leg of the Heineken Champions Cup Round of 16 versus Toulouse at Le Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Ben Moxham will make his first European start for Ulster as he is named on the left wing alongside Mike Lowry at full-back and Robert Baloucoune on the right wing. Stuart McCloskey comes in to start and will partner with James Hume in the centre. Billy Burns and John Cooney return to form the half-back pairing.
The front row sees Eric O’Sullivan and Rob Herring named at loosehead and hooker, with Marty Moore retaining his place at tighthead prop. Alan O’Connor returns to pair up with captain Iain Henderson in the second row. Marcus Rea comes in at blindside flanker, with Nick Timoney and Duane Vermeulen retained at openside and Number Eight respectively.
Brad Roberts, Andrew Warwick, Tom O’Toole, Kieran Treadwell and Jordi Murphy provide the forward reinforcements on the bench. Nathan Doak, Luke Marshall and Rob Lyttle will offer the back line options.
Ulster team to play Toulouse, Heineken Champions Cup Round of 16 First Leg, Saturday 9 April at Le Stadium, 3.15pm kick-off (UK / IRE time), live on BT Sport, beIN Sports, FR2:
(15-9) Mike Lowry, Robert Baloucoune, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Ben Moxham, Billy Burns, John Cooney;
(1-8) Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring, Marty Moore, Alan O’Connor, Iain Henderson (Capt.), Marcus Rea, Nick Timoney, Duane Vermeulen.
Replacements: Brad Roberts, Andrew Warwick, Tom O’Toole, Kieran Treadwell, Jordi Murphy, Nathan Doak, Luke Marshall, Rob Lyttle.