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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

Heineken Champions Cup Pool Draw for 2020/21

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The holders, Exeter Chiefs, will play against Toulouse and Glasgow Warriors in the pool stage of the 2020/21 Heineken Champions Cup following the tournament Pool Draw which was held on Wednesday 28 October at the Maison du Sport International in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Exeter, who lifted the trophy for the first time after a dramatic 25th anniversary final earlier this month, were drawn into Pool B and will meet the four-time tournament winners and Glasgow over four pool stage rounds on a home and away basis.

Under the new format for the 2020/21 season featuring two pools of 12 clubs, reigning Guinness PRO14 champions, Leinster Rugby, will have Montpellier and Northampton Saints as their opponents in Pool A when the tournament kicks off again in December, while last season’s runners-up, Racing 92, are in Pool B where they will be up against Connacht Rugby and Harlequins.

Wasps, who were edged out by the Chiefs in the Gallagher Premiership final, will meet Dragons and Montpellier in Pool A, and PRO14 finalists, Ulster Rugby, will take on Gloucester Rugby and Toulouse in Pool B.

Munster Rugby will renew their European rivalry with ASM Clermont Auvergne and Harlequins in Pool B, while Bristol Bears’ Director of Rugby, Pat Lam, will make a return to Galway when the Challenge Cup winners go up against Connacht and Clermont also in Pool B.

For the purposes of the draw, the 24 clubs which qualified from the Premiership, the PRO14 and the TOP 14 were classified into four tiers based on their performances in the knockout phases of their respective leagues, and/or on their qualifying positions in their respective league tables.

Each tier contained six clubs with Tier 1 made up of the number one and number two ranked clubs from each league, and Tier 2, the number three and number four ranked clubs from each league, and so on.

Starting with Tier 1, the clubs were either drawn or allocated into either Pool A or Pool B so that each pool contained 12 clubs with no clubs in the same tier from the same league in the same pool.

The key principles regarding the pool stage fixtures are that clubs will only play against opponents in the same pool, and clubs from the same league cannot play against one another.

The Tier 1 and Tier 4 clubs which were drawn in the same pool, but which are not from the same league, will play one another home and away over four rounds. The same principle applies to the Tier 2 and Tier 3 clubs which were drawn in the same pool, but which are not from the same league.

The exact dates of the Heineken Champions Cup pool stage fixtures and the Challenge Cup preliminary stage fixtures, including venues, kick-off times and TV coverage, will be announced as soon as possible following consultation with clubs and EPCR’s partner broadcasters.

The four highest-ranked clubs from each Heineken Champions Cup pool will qualify for the quarter-finals which will be played over two legs, and the clubs ranked from number five to number eight in each pool will qualify for the Round of 16 of the Challenge Cup.

Today’s draw, which mapped out the first steps on the journey to the 2021 Marseille finals weekend, was conducted by EPCR Chief Executive, Vincent Gaillard, and by EPCR Commercial and Brand Manager, Anya Alderslade.

The event scrutineer was Lausanne-based solicitor, Jean-Guillaume Amiguet.

2020/21 HEINEKEN CHAMPIONS CUP

POOL A (with opponents in brackets)
Bordeaux-Bègles (Dragons, Northampton Saints)
Leinster Rugby (Montpellier, Northampton Saints)
Wasps (Dragons, Montpellier)
Bath Rugby (La Rochelle, Scarlets)
Edinburgh Rugby (La Rochelle, Sale Sharks)
RC Toulon (Sale Sharks, Scarlets)
La Rochelle (Bath Rugby, Edinburgh Rugby)
Sale Sharks (Edinburgh Rugby, RC Toulon)
Scarlets (Bath Rugby, RC Toulon)
Dragons (Bordeaux-Bègles, Wasps)
Montpellier (Leinster Rugby, Wasps)
Northampton Saints (Bordeaux-Bègles, Leinster Rugby)

POOL B (with opponents in brackets)
Exeter Chiefs (Glasgow Warriors, Toulouse)
Lyon (Glasgow Warriors, Gloucester Rugby)
Ulster Rugby (Gloucester Rugby, Toulouse)
Bristol Bears (ASM Clermont Auvergne, Connacht Rugby)
Munster Rugby (ASM Clermont Auvergne, Harlequins)
Racing 92 (Connacht Rugby, Harlequins)
ASM Clermont Auvergne (Bristol Bears, Munster Rugby)
Connacht Rugby (Bristol Bears, Racing 92)
Harlequins (Munster Rugby, Racing 92)
Glasgow Warriors (Exeter Chiefs, Lyon)
Gloucester Rugby (Lyon, Ulster)
Toulouse (Exeter Chiefs, Ulster Rugby)

2020/21 season weekends
Round 1 – 11/12/13 December 2020
Round 2 – 18/19/20 December 2020
Round 3 – 15/16/17 January 2021
Round 4 – 22/23/24 January 2021

Heineken Champions Cup quarter-finals, 1st leg – 2/3/4 April 2021
Challenge Cup Round of 16 – 2/3/4 April 2021
Heineken Champions Cup quarter-finals, 2nd leg – 9/10/11 April 2021
Challenge Cup quarter-finals – 9/10/11 April 2021
Semi-finals – 30 April – 1/2 May 2021
2021 finals – Stade Vélodrome, Marseille
Challenge Cup final – Friday 21 May
Heineken Champions Cup final – Saturday 22 May

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6 Nations

What rugby is on and where to watch it October – December

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Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images

Upcoming Rugby Fixtures

Kick-off times are UK & Ireland. Fixtures are subject to change.

MONDAY 26 OCTOBER

Guinness Pro14

Munster v Cardiff Blues (8.15pm) Live on Premier Sports
SATURDAY 31 OCTOBER
2020 Six Nations

Wales v Scotland (2.15pm, Parc y Scarlets) Live on BBC & S4C
Italy v England (4.45pm, Stadio Olimpico) Live on ITV
France v Ireland (8pm, Stade de France) Live on BBC
Tri-Nations
Australia v New Zealand (8.45am, ANZ Stadium) Live on Sky Sports


SUNDAY 1 NOVEMBER

2020 Women’s Six Nations

Ireland v France (tbc, Dublin) Live on RTE
Wales v Scotland (4.15pm, Cardiff City Stadium) Live on BBC Alba
Italy v England (5pm, Stadio Sergio Lanranchi) Live on Sky Sports

Guinness Pro14

Dragons v Munster (2pm) Live on Premier Sports & S4C

Connacht v Benetton (4.30pm) Live on Premier Sports

Scarlets v Edinburgh (6.45pm) Live on Premier Sports

MONDAY 2 NOVEMBER
Guinness Pro14
Cardiff Blues v Ulster (6pm) Live on Premier Sports

Zebre v Ospreys (7.15pm) Live on Premier Sports

Glasgow v Leinster (8.15pm) Live on Premier Sports

SATURDAY 7 NOVEMBER
Tri-Nations
Australia v New Zealand (8.45am, Suncorp Stadium) Live on Sky Sports
Guinness Pro14
Benetton v Munster (2pm) Live on Premier Sports

Dragons v Connacht (5.15pm) Live on Premier Sports

Selection Match

Black Ferns Possibles v Probables (30.5am, North Harbour Stadium)


SUNDAY 8 NOVEMBER
Guinness Pro14
Ospreys v Leinster (3pm) Live on Premier Sports

Scarlets v Zebre (5.15pm) Live on Premier Sports & S4C

MONDAY 9 NOVEMBER
Guinness Pro14
Ulster v Glasgow (8.15pm) Live on Premier Sports

Edinburgh v Cardiff Blues (8.15pm) Live on Premier Sports


FRIDAY 13 NOVEMBER
Autumn Nations Cup
Ireland v Wales (7pm, Aviva Stadium) Live on Channel 4, RTE & S4C

SATURDAY 14 NOVEMBER
Autumn Nations Cup
Italy v Scotland (12.45pm, venue tbc) Live on Amazon Prime
England v Georgia (3pm, Twickenham) Live on Amazon Prime
Tri-Nations
New Zealand v Argentina (6.10am, Bankwest Stadium) Live on Sky Sports
RWC 2021 Qualifier

Samoa v Tonga (3.05am, Trusts Arena)
International Fixtures
France v England Women (1.15pm, venue TBC)
Black Ferns v NZ Barbarians (5.35am, Trusts Arena)
Guinness Pro14
Connacht v Scarlets (7.35pm) Live on Premier Sports

SUNDAY 15 NOVEMBER
Autumn Nations Cup
France v Fiji (3.15pm, Ravine Stadium) Live on Amazon Prime
Guinness Pro14
Munster v Ospreys (2.45pm) Live on Premier Sports & S4C

Glasgow v Dragons (6.30pm) Live on Premier Sports

MONDAY 16 NOVEMBER
Guinness Pro14
Zebre v Ulster (6pm) Live on Premier Sports

Leinster v Edinburgh (8.15pm) Live on Premier Sports

Cardiff Blues v Benetton (8.15pm) Live on Premier Sports

FRIDAY 20 NOVEMBER
Gallagher Premiership

Harlequins v Exeter (7.45pm) Live on BT Sport

Sale v Northampton (8pm)

SATURDAY 21 NOVEMBER

Autumn Nations Cup
Italy v Fiji (12.45pm, venue tbc) Live on Amazon Prime
England v Ireland (3pm, Twickenham) Live on Amazon Prime, Channel 4 & RTE

Wales v Georgia (5.15pm, Parc y Scarlets) Live on Amazon Prime & S4C
Tri-Nations
Argentina v Australia (8.45am, McDonald Jones Stadium) Live on Sky Sports
International Fixture
England v France Women (noon, Twickenham)
Black Ferns v NZ Barbarians (5.35am, Trafalgar Park)
Gallagher Premiership
Bath v Newcastle (12.30pm)

Leicester v Gloucester (3pm)

Worcester v London Irish (3pm)

SUNDAY 22 NOVEMBER
Autumn Nations Cup
Scotland v France (3pm, BT Murrayfield) Live on Amazon Prime

Gallagher Premiership
Wasps v Bristol (1pm) Live on BT Sport
Guinness Pro14
Zebre v Connacht (2.30pm) Live on Premier Sports

Ospreys v Benetton (3pm) Live on S4C

Leinster v Cardiff Blues (5.15pm) Live on Premier Sports

Ulster v Scarlets (7.35pm) Live on Premier Sports

MONDAY 23 NOVEMBER

Guinness Pro14
Dragons v Edinburgh (6pm)

Glasgow v Munster (8.15pm) Live on Premier Sports

FRIDAY 27 NOVEMBER

Gallagher Premiership

Newcastle v Sale (7.45pm) Live on BT Sport

SATURDAY 28 NOVEMBER

Autumn Nations Cup
Scotland v Fiji (1.45pm, BT Murrayfield) Live on Amazon Prime
Wales v England (4pm, venue tbc) Live on Amazon Prime & S4C
France v Italy (8pm, venue tbc) Live on Amazon Prime
Tri-Nations
Argentina v New Zealand (8.45am, McDonald Jones Stadium) Live on Sky Sports
Gallagher Premiership
Northampton v Harlequins (2pm)

Bristol v Worcester (3pm)

Exeter v Bath (3pm)

Gloucester v Wasps (3pm)

Guinness Pro14
Connacht v Ospreys (7.35pm) Live on Premier Sports

SUNDAY 29 NOVEMBER
Autumn Nations Cup
Ireland v Georgia (2pm, Aviva Stadium) Live on Channel 4 & RTE

Gallagher Premiership
London Irish v Leicester (4.15pm) Live on BT Sport
Guinness Pro14
Scarlets v Leinster (5.15pm) Live on Premier Sports & S4C

Cardiff Blues v Glasgow (7.35pm) Live on Premier Sports

MONDAY 30 NOVEMBER
Guinness Pro14
Benetton v Dragons (6pm) Live on Premier Sports

Munster v Zebre (8.15pm) Live on Premier Sports

Edinburgh v Ulster (8.15pm) Live on Premier Sports


FRIDAY 4 DECEMBER
Gallagher Premiership
Bristol v Northampton (7.45pm) Live on BT Sport

SATURDAY 5 DECEMBER
Autumn Nations Cup – Play-off Finals

Georgia v TBC (midday, BT Murrayfield) Live on Amazon Prime
Ireland v TBC (2.15pm, Aviva Stadium) Live on Amazon Prime & RTE

Wales v TBC (4.45pm, venue tbc) Live on Amazon Prime & S4C
Tri-Nations
Australia v Argentina (8.45am, Bankwest Stadium) Live on Sky Sports
Gallagher Premiership
Leicester v Exeter (3pm)

Wasps v Newcastle (3pm)

Worcester v Bath (3pm)


SUNDAY 6 DECEMBER
Autumn Nations Cup – Play-off Finals
England v TBC (2pm, Twickenham) Live on Amazon Prime
2020 Women’s Six Nations/RWC 2021 Qualifier

Italy v Scotland (6pm, Stadio Sergio Lanranchi)
Gallagher Premiership
London Irish v Sale (2.30pm)
Gloucester v Harlequins (4.15pm) Live on BT Sport

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Champions Cup

Leinster v Saracens: Lineups announced.

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(Photo by GLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images)

Jackson Wray makes his 250th appearance for Saracens this weekend v Leinster. He is joined the back row by Mike Rhodes, who is closing in on 100 outings for the Men in Black, and Billy Vunipola – a try scorer in last season’s European final.

His brother Mako returns to the front row alongside England teammate Jamie George and South Africa international Vincent Koch, while Maro Itoje is partnered by Tim Swinson in the second row.

Scotland international Swinson will run out for his 50th European match in Dublin.

In the back division, Owen Farrell’s suspension sees Alex Goode switch to fly-half to play outside scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth.

Elliot Daly fills in at full-back with Sean Maitland and Alex Lewington taking spot on the wings. Captain Brad Barritt and Duncan Taylor make up the midfield.

Replacements Alec Clarey and Dom Morris will earn their Champions Cup stripes should they enter the fray.

Saracens team to face Leinster:

15 Elliot Daly (10)
14 Alex Lewington (51)
13 Duncan Taylor (130)
12 Brad Barritt (260)
11 Sean Maitland (77)
10 Alex Goode (300)
9 Richard Wigglesworth (247)
1 Mako Vunipola (169)
2 Jamie George (230)
3 Vincent Koch (85)
4 Maro Itoje (123)
5 Tim Swinson (3)
6 Mike Rhodes (97)
7 Jackson Wray (249)
8 Billy Vunipola (114)

Replacements

16 Tom Woolstencroft (40)
17 Richard Barrington (192)
18 Alec Clarey (5)
19 Callum Hunter-Hill (21)
20 Calum Clark (54)
21 Aled Davies (4)
22 Manu Vunipola (26)
23 Dom Morris (24)

The Leinster Rugby team, as sponsored by Bank of Ireland, to face Saracens in the Quarter-Final of the Heineken Champions Cup tomorrow at Aviva Stadium has been named by Head Coach Leo Cullen (KO 3.00pm, live on BT Sport and RTÉ Radio).

In team news, Johnny Sexton will captain the side with two players, Hugo Keenan and Will Connors, making European debuts from the start and a third, Ryan Baird, from the bench.

Jordan Larmour is selected at full-back and the former St. Andrew’s College man will win his 50th cap for Leinster in the number 15 jersey.

Keenan will make his European debut on the right wing with James Lowe selected on the left.

In the centre once again Cullen has selected Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose as his partnership.

In the half-backs, Luke McGrath starts at scrumhalf alongside captain Sexton.

Cian Healy will become the fourth most-capped Leinster player of all time when he pulls on the number one jersey tomorrow. The Clontarf native is closing in on Jamie Heaslip who is in third place on 229 caps.

Seán Cronin is selected alongside Healy in the front row as is Andrew Porter.

Devin Toner and James Ryan will again form the second-row partnership for Leinster Rugby this week.

Finally, in the back row, Caelan Doris will start at blindside flanker, with Will Connors selected at openside and Jack Conan at number eight.

On the bench, Ryan Baird is another player in line to make his European debut should he be introduced.

Leinster Rugby (caps in brackets)

15. Jordan Larmour (49)
14. Hugo Keenan (17)
13. Garry Ringrose (75)
12. Robbie Henshaw (47)
11. James Lowe (46)
10. Johnny Sexton (166) CAPTAIN
9. Luke McGrath (126)
1. Cian Healy (219)
2. Seán Cronin (184)
3. Andrew Porter (65)
4. Devin Toner (248)
5. James Ryan (38)
6. Caelan Doris (32)
7. Will Connors (19)
8. Jack Conan (92)

16. Rónan Kelleher (14)
17. Ed Byrne (56)
18. Michael Bent (139)
19. Ryan Baird (9)
20. Josh van der Flier (83)
21. Jamison Gibson-Park (92)
22. Ross Byrne (88)
23. Rory O’Loughlin (70)

Referee: Pascal Gaüzère (FFR)

Press Releases from Saracens and Leinster Rugby

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