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.
All You Need To Know | Toulouse v Munster
Munster face Toulouse at Stade Ernest-Wallon for just the second time at the weekend in the fourth and final Pool game of this year’s Champions Cup.
Both sides will be named before 12pm on Friday.
It will be a huge weekend of Champions Cup rugby, see the state of play in the competition here with all 12 teams in Munster’s Pool in with a shout of qualifying for the knock-out stages.
Find out all you need to know ahead of the game below.
Sunday, 3.15pm Irish time/4.15pm local
Live on BT Sport, France TV, beIN Sports, SuperSport & FloRugby.
Did you know?
The sides have met nine times previously in the competition with Munster and Toulouse winning four times apiece. There was one draw in last year’s quarter-final with Toulouse winning the place-kicking competition to progress.
Gavin Coombes has scored four tries in three Champions Cup matches and is the joint leading try-scorer in the competition.
Munster have played at the Stade Ernest-Wallon twice previously. The first game was a 60-19 defeat to Toulouse in November 1996 and the second was a 27-24 victory over Castres Olympique in November 2011. Coincidentally, Munster’s win over Castres came a week after a win over Northampton at Thomond Park. Both victories were secured with last-minute Ronan O’Gara drop-goals.
Champions Cup Pool Stage: Toulouse 60-19 Munster, Stade Ernest-Wallon;
Champions Cup Semi-Final: Toulouse 25-31 Munster, Stade Chaban Delmas, Bordeaux;
Champions Cup Semi-Final: Toulouse 13-12 Munster, Stade Toulouse;
Champions Cup Final: Munster 16-13 Toulouse, Millennium Stadium;
Champions Cup Quarter-Final: Munster 47-23 Toulouse, Thomond Park;
Champions Cup Quarter-Final: Munster 41-16 Toulouse, Thomond Park;
Champions Cup Round of 16: Munster 33-40 Toulouse, Thomond Park (behind closed doors);
Champions Cup Quarter-Final: Munster 24-24 Toulouse (Toulouse win place-kicking competition), Aviva Stadium;
Champions Cup Pool Stage: Munster 13-18 Toulouse, Thomond Park;
Referee: Karl Dickson
AR1: Dan Jones
AR2: Phil Watters
TMO: Rowan Kitt
URC Round 14
Friday, February 17, 2023
Munster Rugby v Ospreys, Thomond Park, 7.35pm; Buy tickets here
URC Round 15
Friday, March 3, 2023
Munster Rugby v Scarlets, Musgrave Park, 7.35pm; Buy tickets here
URC Round 16
Saturday, March 25, 2023
Munster Rugby v Glasgow Warriors, Thomond Park, 5.15pm; Buy tickets here
Images & Content from Munster Rugby
Cobus Wiese suspended for two weeks
The Sale Sharks second row, Cobus Wiese, has been suspended for two weeks following an independent Disciplinary Hearing arising from his club’s Heineken Champions Cup, Round 3 match against Stade Toulousain at the AJ Bell Stadium.
Wiese was sent off by the referee, Mike Adamson (Scotland), in the 18th minute of the match for a dangerous clear out on the Stade Toulousain prop, Dorian Aldegheri, in contravention of Law 9.20.
Law 9.20 Dangerous play in a ruck or maul
Under World Rugby’s Sanctions for Foul Play, Law 9.20 relating to dangerous play in a ruck or maul carries the following sanction entry points – Low End: 2 weeks; Mid-range: 6 weeks; Top end: 10 to 52 weeks
An independent Disciplinary Committee comprising Rhian Williams (Wales), Chair, Mike Ross (Ireland) and Lawrence Sephaka (South Africa) considered video imagery of the incident and heard submissions from Wiese, who accepted the red card decision, from the Sale Sharks Director of Rugby, Alex Sanderson, from the Sale Sharks Team Manager, Scott Needham, and from the EPCR Disciplinary Officer, Liam McTiernan.
Following submissions, the committee upheld the red card decision, but decided that the incident should be considered as being in contravention of Law 9.20 (b) which refers to dangerous play at a ruck or maul when a player makes contact with an opponent above the line of the shoulders.
Law 9.20 (b) A player must not make contact with an opponent above the line of the shoulders
Under World Rugby’s Sanctions for Foul Play, Law 9.20 (b) carries the following sanction entry points – Low End: 2 weeks; Mid-range: 4 weeks; Top end: 8 to 52 weeks
It determined that Wiese entered the ruck dangerously making contact with Aldegheri above the line of the shoulders, that the offending was at the mid-range of World Rugby’s sanctions, and four weeks was selected as the appropriate entry point.
Due to the player’s good disciplinary record and his guilty plea, it was decided to grant him the full 50% mitigation and the committee therefore reduced the sanction by two weeks before imposing a two-week suspension.
Wiese is free to play on Monday, 30 January 2023, however, if he applies for and successfully completes a World Rugby Coaching Intervention, he will be free to play on Monday, 23 January 2023.
Both he and EPCR have the right to appeal the decision.
Henry Slade red card dismissed
The Exeter Chiefs centre, Henry Slade, has had the red card which was issued to him during his club’s Heineken Champions Cup, Round 3 match against the Vodacom Bulls, dismissed following an independent Disciplinary Hearing.
Slade was sent off by the replacement referee, Thomas Charabas (France), in the 54th minute of the match at Loftus Versfeld for tackling the Vodacom Bulls full back, Kurt-Lee Arendse, in a dangerous manner in contravention of Law 9.13.
Law 9.13 A player must not tackle an opponent dangerously
Under World Rugby’s Sanctions for Foul Play, Law 9.13 relating to dangerous tackling carries the following sanction entry points – Low End: 2 weeks; Mid-range: 6 weeks; Top end: 10 to 52 weeks
An independent Disciplinary Committee comprising Jennifer Donovan (Ireland), Chair, Frank Hadden (Scotland) and Yannick Jauzion (France) considered video imagery of the incident and heard evidence from Slade, who did not accept the red card decision, and heard submissions from the player’s legal representative, Richard Smith KC, from the Exeter Chiefs Director of Rugby, Rob Baxter, and from the EPCR Disciplinary Officer, Liam McTiernan.
The committee decided that while Slade had committed an act of foul play, it did not warrant a sending off. The red card decision was therefore dismissed and he is free to play.
EPCR have the right to appeal the decision.
EPCR CHALLENGE CUP
Geoffrey Lanne-Petit suspended for five weeks and Section Paloise fined €25,000 (suspended)
The Section Paloise Attack Coach, Geoffrey Lanne-Petit, has been suspended for five weeks and Section Paloise have been handed a suspended €25,000 fine following an independent Disciplinary Hearing arising from the club’s EPCR Challenge Cup, Round 1 match against the Toyota Cheetahs at Stade du Hameau.
EPCR brought a misconduct complaint against Lanne-Petit, who was alleged to have committed an act of misconduct in contravention of EPCR’s Disciplinary Rules by verbally abusing the Assistant Referee, Hollie Davidson (Scotland), following the conclusion of the match.
Also, EPCR brought a second misconduct complaint against Section Paloise who were alleged to have failed to control staff members, and/or persons connected to the club, following the conclusion of the match.
An independent Disciplinary Committee comprising Gareth Graham (England), Chair, David Humphreys (Ireland) and Donal Courtney (Ireland) heard evidence and submissions from Lanne-Petit, who accepted the misconduct charge, from the
Section Paloise President, Bernard Pontneau, from the Section Paloise legal representative, Benjamin Peyrelevade, from the Section Paloise Chief Executive, Pierre Lahore and from the Section Paloise Legal Manager, Marie Anglade.
The committee also heard evidence and submissions from the match Assistant Referee, Hollie Davidson, and from the EPCR Disciplinary Officer, Liam McTiernan.
The committee found that Lanne-Petit had committed an act of misconduct in that he verbally abused Hollie Davidson following the match and it was decided to suspend him for five weeks.
Lanne-Petit is therefore suspended from any match day contact with the Section Paloise playing squad, including, but not limited to, access to the Technical Zone, pitchside, dressing rooms, any team areas and team communications systems until midnight on Sunday, 26 February.
In addition, the committee found that Section Paloise were guilty of failing to control members of their coaching staff and persons connected to the club who disrespected the authority of the match officials following the conclusion of the match.
Section Paloise were fined €25,000 with the amount suspended until the end of the 2023/24 season which would only become payable if Section Paloise are found to have committed a further breach of EPCR’s Disciplinary Rules during that period.
Lanne-Petit, Section Paloise and EPCR have the right to appeal the decisions
Squad Update | Munster Prepare For Toulouse Trip
The Munster squad have started preparations ahead of Sunday’s Champions Cup clash against Toulouse at a sold-out Stade Ernest-Wallon (3.15pm Irish time, live on BT Sport).
Due to the weather conditions, training has been moved to the main pitch at Thomond Park for this week.
Along with the squad members who were in Champions Cup action against Northampton on Saturday, there were 12 Munster players playing in the AIL for their clubs at the weekend.
Liam O’Connor helped Cork Constitution to a 32-27 victory over Dublin University.
Neil Cronin, Oli Morris, Tony Butler and Mark Donnelly featured for Garryowen in their 19-13 defeat to Clontarf with Morris scoring a try and Butler kicking a penalty.
Darragh McSweeney and Kieran Ryan were in action for Shannon as they were beaten 34-24 by Lansdowne.
Dan Goggin, Eoin O’Connor, Chris Moore, Patrick Campbell and Conor Phillips lined out for Young Munster as they fell to a 21-11 loss to Terenure College.
On the injury front, there is good news for Diarmuid Barron (shoulder) as he has returned to full team training.
Roman Salanoa was removed with an arm injury during the win over Northampton and will be managed by the medical department. His availability for Toulouse will be determined later in the week.
Jack Crowley is being managed following an ankle injury sustained against Northampton and his availability will also be determined later in the week.
Simon Zebo suffered a low-grade knee injury in training last week and is not available this week as he rehabilitates with the medical department. His injury is not expected to be long term.
Continuing to rehab: Jeremy Loughman (thigh), Tom Ahern (shoulder), RG Snyman (knee), Fineen Wycherley (shoulder), Paddy Kelly (head), Jack Daly (knee), Andrew Conway (knee), Keynan Knox (knee), Kiran McDonald (arm).
Images & Content from Munster Rugby
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