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Champions Cup

Leinster vs Saracens Preview & Key Match-Ups

Leinster and Saracens have named their star-studded teams for the Champions Cup Final

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(Photo by GLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images)

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.


Champions Cup

Munster Rugby New Coaches Intro | 2022/23

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A new-look coaching team will lead Munster Rugby this season with Head Coach Graham Rowntree joined by Mike Prendergast, Andi Kyriacou and Denis Leamy.

New Attack Coach Prendergast joined from Racing 92, Forwards Coach Kyriacou was promoted from his role as Elite Player Development Officer and Defence Coach Leamy has returned from Leinster.

See profiles for the three new members of the coaching team below. Scroll down to watch Graham Rowntree’s first interview as Munster Head Coach.

Mike Prendergast – Attack Coach

Mike Prendergast has joined Munster from Top 14 side Racing 92, where he held the role of  Attack and Backs Coach since 2019.

Prendergast has a wealth of experience of coaching at the top level and in addition to Racing 92 he has held assistant coaching roles with Stade Francais, Oyannax Rugby and Grenoble FCG since making the move to France in 2013.

On completing his professional playing career in 2009 the scrum-half continued playing with his club Young Munster RFC while also progressing on the coaching front as he held Head Coach and Director of Rugby roles with the Limerick side.

On the provincial coaching front, he previously worked closely with Academy Manager Ian Costello and Team Manager Niall O’Donovan when overseeing the backline for the Munster A’s that enjoyed British and Irish Cup success in 2012.

Andi Kyriacou – Forwards Coach

Andi Kyriacou has been promoted from his role as an Elite Player Development Officer with the Greencore Munster Rugby Academy, a position he held since April 2021.

From England, the former hooker lined out for the province during the 2006/07 season when on loan from Saracens and went on to represent Ulster and Cardiff Rugby before retiring from the professional game in 2013.

Over the last decade he has held numerous coaching roles in the areas of the scrum, defence, skills, and forwards working with Cardiff Rugby, Sale Sharks, Russia Rugby and Nottingham.

Andi Kyriacou prior to Munster's Champions Cup clash against Wasps in Coventry earlier this season.

Andi Kyriacou prior to Munster’s Champions Cup clash against Wasps in Coventry.

Denis Leamy – Defence Coach

Denis Leamy returned to Munster after a three-year spell at Leinster, where he first held a role as an Elite Player Development Officer before moving up to the role of Contact Skills Coach in October 2021.

Following a hugely successful playing career with Munster and Ireland Leamy’s coaching career saw him work with several sides across the province over seven years including Young Munster RFC, Rockwell College, Clonmel RFC, Cashel RFC and Garryowen FC.

On the provincial front the Tipperary native also worked at various stages with Munster’s age-grade players and the ‘A’ team before making the move to Leinster.

He joined the Ireland U20s team as Assistant Coach for the 2021 Six Nations campaign.

New Defence Coach Denis Leamy.

New Defence Coach Denis Leamy.

Video | Graham Rowntree Interview

Images & Content from Munster Rugby


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Champions Cup

Video | Graham Rowntree’s 1st Interview As Head Coach

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We spoke to Graham Rowntree about his new role as Munster Head Coach ahead of the pre-season training programme.

Graham spent three years as Munster Forwards Coach before stepping up to become Head Coach.

He leads a new-look coaching team including Attack Coach Mike Prendergast, Defence Coach Denis Leamy and Forwards Coach Andi Kyriacou.

The new campaign kicks off in one month with Munster taking on Gloucester and London Irish in two pre-season games at Musgrave Park. Click here for fixture details and ticket news.

Watch Graham Rowntree’s first interview as Munster Head Coach below.

Pre-Season Fixtures

Buy a discount two-match pack here.

Friday, August 26

Munster Rugby v Gloucester, Musgrave Park, 7.30pm; Buy tickets here

Friday, September 2

Munster Rugby v London Irish, Musgrave Park, 7.30pm; Buy tickets here

Images & Content from Munster Rugby


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Champions Cup

2022/23 Heineken Champions Cup and EPCR Challenge Cup pool stage fixture schedules announced

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Stade Rochelais, who won a first Heineken Champions Cup in such dramatic fashion in May, will launch the defence of their title at Stade Marcel Deflandre against another former tournament winner, Northampton Saints, when the 2022/23 EPCR season kicks off on the weekend of 9/10/11 December.

The Anglo-French clash in Pool B will be one of a host of mouthwatering match-ups, which include the landmark participation of South African clubs, following today’s (Thursday, 21 July) announcement of the Heineken Champions Cup and EPCR Challenge Cup fixture schedules.

URC winners, the Stormers, will have a first competitive outing on French soil when they take on ASM Clermont Auvergne in the Stade Marcel-Michelin cauldron, while the Pretoria-based Bulls and the Sharks from Durban will be at home against Lyon and Harlequins respectively in Round 1 on the weekend of 9/10/11 December.

Click HERE for the 2022/23 Heineken Champions Cup pool stage fixtures

Reigning Gallagher Premiership champions, Leicester Tigers, will open their campaign against the Ospreys at the Swansea.com Stadium, and last season’s TOP 14 winners, Montpellier Hérault Rugby, will also be on the road when they face London Irish, who are making a return to the top flight for the first time since 2012, at Brentford Community Stadium.

Two of the tournament’s heavyweights, Munster Rugby and Stade Toulousain, who met in a memorable quarter-final last season, will renew rivalries in Round 1 in early December at what is certain to be a packed-out Thomond Park.

At this stage, EPCR are only announcing the fixtures by round for the pool stages, with exact dates, kick-off times and TV coverage in both the Heineken Champions Cup and EPCR Challenge Cup to be announced as soon as possible following the conclusion of negotiations with broadcasters for the new cycle across each market.

The 2020 winners, Bristol Bears, will be hoping for a repeat performance when they start their EPCR Challenge Cup Pool A campaign against USAP at Stade Aimé Giral on the weekend of 9/10/11 December, while last season’s defeated finalists, RC Toulon, travel to Zebre Parma in Round 1.

Click HERE for the 2022/23 EPCR Challenge Cup pool stage fixtures

The Lions from Johannesburg will make their debut in the tournament against Worcester Warriors at Sixways, while the Cheetahs, who will play their two ‘home’ matches in Pool B at Stadio Lanfranchi in Parma, go head-to-head with Section Paloise at Stade du Hameau in the south-west of France in Round 1.

HEINEKEN CHAMPIONS CUP

24 elite clubs (nine tournament winners with 36 EPCR titles between them)
Two pools of 12
Four pool stage rounds
Eight highest-ranked clubs from each pool qualify for the knockout stage
Knockout stage: Round of 16, quarter-finals, semi-finals and final
Ninth and 10th ranked clubs from each pool qualify for the EPCR Challenge Cup

Click HERE for the Heineken Champions Cup pools

EPCR CHALLENGE CUP

20 clubs (seven tournament winners with 14 EPCR titles between them)
Two pools of 10
Four pool stage rounds
Six highest-ranked clubs from each pool qualify for the knockout stage
Knockout stage: Round of 16, quarter-finals, semi-finals and final

Click HERE for the EPCR Challenge Cup pools

2022/23 key dates
Round 1 – 9/10/11 December 2022
Round 2 – 16/17/18 December 2022
Round 3 – 13/14/15 January 2023
Round 4 – 20/21/22 January 2023
Round of 16 – 31 March – 1/2 April 2023
Quarter-finals – 7/8/9 April 2023
Semi-finals – 28/29/30 April 2023
EPCR Challenge Cup final – Friday 19 May 2023; Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Heineken Champions Cup final – Saturday 20 May 2023; Aviva Stadium, Dublin

Content & Images from – EPC Rugby


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