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Dublin: 15 °C Sunday 26 May, 2019
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Good afternoon and welcome along to our live coverage of the 2019 Heineken Champions Cup final, live from St James’ Park in Newcastle, as Leinster bid to claim back-to-back European titles and become the most successful club in the competition’s history.

Leo Cullen’s side can stitch a record fifth star onto the province’s crest this afternoon, but they face an almighty challenge in the form of Saracens, the 2016 and 2017 champions, who have remained unbeaten en route to today’s decider.

It’s the final a lot of rugby fans have been waiting some time for, with two European titans going head-to-head at the iconic home of Newcastle United. With both sides stacked with world-class players, this one has all the ingredients to be a classic. 

Kick-off is coming up at 5pm, and as well as all the action as it happens, we’ll have all the build-up right here between now and then. 

What an incredible venue for this year’s final. It’s a gorgeous afternoon on Tyneside and St James’ Park looks an absolute picture.

A general view of St James' Park as ground staff prepare the pitch ahead of today's game Source: Andrew Fosker/INPHO

A general view of a Leinster jersey and match programme before the game

A general view of the Heineken Champions Cup

A general view of a Leinster jersey before the game

A general view of St James' Park ahead of the game

This will be the fourth meeting between Leinster and Saracens in Champions Cup, with the three previous clashes all won by Cullen’s side including a 30-19 victory in their only knockout encounter in last year’s quarter-final at the Aviva Stadium.

Leinster have won 16 of their 17 European matches since the beginning of the 2017/18 season, their only defeat in that run coming by a single point against Toulouse in this season’s pool stage back in October. 

But Sarries, under Mark McCall, have won all eight of their games this term and victory today would see the Premiership side become just the third club to remain unbeaten on their way to lifting the trophy — Saracens themselves did it in 2015/16 before Leinster also achieved the feat last season. 

The teams are in the house! 

Johnny Sexton arrives Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Sean O'Brien arrives

Leinster and Saracens supporters welcome the teams Source: Andrew Fosker/INPHO

Jamie George arrives

Leinster Supporters ahead of the game

Just under an hour until kick-off, and we’re expecting the team-sheets to be confirmed in the next few minutes, but before that, here are just a couple of our pre-match offerings to whet the appetite.

Starting with the opposition, Murray Kinsella spoke with the unsung Irishman behind Saracens’ transformation this week, while Sean Farrell got an insight into head coach Mark McCall from Rory Best

Meanwhile, Ryan Bailey spent the week with Leinster at their UCD base, where he caught up with Robbie Henshaw, James Ryan and Stuart Lancaster.

Finally, we have a long-read with former Leinster hooker Richardt Strauss, who started in two Heineken Cup finals for the province, while he was in Bilbao last year for their win over Racing.

Today, he’ll watch on from a very different vantage point, as he tells The42 here.

TEAM NEWS: Let’s take a check on the teams. Leo Cullen has named an unchanged starting XV from the semi-final win over Toulouse, with Seán Cronin fit to start after a calf injury. 

Jamison Gibson-Park’s injury meant Cullen and Stuart Lancaster were sparred a big decision over James Lowe, with the Kiwi winger retaining his place on the wing having been unlucky to miss last year’s final.

Scott Fardy again starts in the back row with the fit-again Rhys Ruddock taking his place on the bench, where Jack McGrath is preferred to Ed Byrne and Michael Bent gets the nod over Andrew Porter.

Leinster:

15. Rob Kearney
14. Jordan Larmour
13. Garry Ringrose
12. Robbie Henshaw
11. James Lowe
10. Johnny Sexton (captain)
9. Luke McGrath

1. Cian Healy
2. Seán Cronin
3. Tadhg Furlong
4. Devin Toner
5. James Ryan
6. Scott Fardy
7. Seán O’Brien
8. Jack Conan.

Replacements:

16. James Tracy
17. Jack McGrath
18. Michael Bent
19. Rhys Ruddock
20. Max Deegan
21. Hugh O’Sullivan
22. Ross Byrne
23. Rory O’Loughlin.

TEAM NEWS: As for Saracens, Mark McCall’s XV is stacked full of international pedigree.

Sean Maitland has shaken off a hamstring complaint to line out on the wing for the English powerhouses, while Will Skelton’s impressive recent form has earned him a spot at lock.

Skelton’s inclusion in the second row means Maro Itoje moves to blindside flanker where he lines out alongside Jackson Wray and Billy Vunipola.

The elder Vunipola brother, Mako, was passed fit earlier this week and starts in the front row.

Saracens:

15. Alex Goode
14. Sean Maitland
13. Alex Lozowski
12. Brad Barritt (captain)
11. Liam Williams
10. Owen Farrell
9. Ben Spencer

1. Mako Vunipola
2. Jamie George
3. Titi Lamositele
4. Will Skelton
5. George Kruis
6. Maro Itoje
7. Jackson Wray
8. Billy Vunipola.

Replacements:

16. Joe Gray
17. Richard Barrington
18. Vincent Koch
19. Nick Isiekwe
20. Schalk Burger
21. Richard Wigglesworth
22. Nick Tompkins
23. David Strettle.

Over 51,000 expected inside St James’ Park this evening, with many of those of blue persuasion. The atmosphere has been building around Newcastle all day!

Leinster supporters ahead of the game Source: Andrew Fosker/INPHO

Leinster supporters ahead of the game

Leinster and Saracens Supporters ahead of the game

Murray Kinsella is in position at St James’ Park, with Ryan Bailey here to guide you through all the action as it happens, as we bring you minute-by-minute of this Champions Cup final. 

The captains with today’s referee, Jerome Garces.

A lot has been made about the French official’s policing of the breakdown and offside line, and you can read more about the impact he may have on this game here.

Johnny Sexton and Brad Barritt at the coin toss with Jerome Garces Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Leo Cullen has been speaking to Virgin Media ahead of kick-off.

“It can be a distraction [chasing history] We’re just thinking about putting a performance together. Controlling what we can control,” the head coach said.

20 minutes until kick-off!

The bookmakers have struggled to come down definitely on either side this week and certainly, this promises to be one of the closest and tightest Champions Cup finals. 

Which way do you see it going?


Poll Results:

Leinster  (283)
Saracens  (81)


How are the nerves, Leinster fans? 

After all the build-up, all the pre-match chat, we’re just about set for the 2019 Heineken Champions Cup final.

The two best teams in European rugby go head-to-head for the ultimate prize. Strap yourself in, the sides are on their way from the changing rooms…

HERE. WE. GO!

Tadhg Furlong leads Leinster out on the occasion of his 100th appearance for the province. What an atmosphere inside St James’ Park! Blue flags everywhere. Cries of ‘Leinster, Leinster’ ring out around this iconic sporting venue. We’re ready to go!

1Mins

1 mins – Rob Kearney fields an early up-and-under safely, before Luke McGrath returns the favour after a meaty carry from Furlong. Alex Goode comes across to gather and after calling for a mark, finds an excellent touch on this near side. 

2Mins

2 mins – Lovely piece of work from Toner at the lineout, as he dummies the transfer and Saracens shoot off the line but are all caught offside, and this is an early opportunity for Johnny Sexton to open the scoring. 

3Mins

3 mins — Penalty! Leinster 3-0 Saracens (Sexton)

Leinster are up and running! Sweet, sweet strike from their captain and the defending champions draw first blood on the scoreboard. 

4Mins

4 mins – Excellent start from Leinster. James Lowe’s kick-chase puts Saracens under all sorts of pressure and when McGrath’s clearing box-kick falls into the arms of Sexton, the province are up to halfway. 

5Mins

5 mins – Leinster remain patient through the phases before Larmour’s kick through doesn’t come off as Jackson Wray dives on the ball. The blue shirts drive through and a superb counter-ruck turns it over, but Sarries win the penalty. Absorbing stuff already. 

8Mins

7 mins – From the lineout, Sarries move it out right and Williams beats Lowe far too easily and this is incredibly dangerous for Leinster. The Premiership side look menacing on their first surge into the 22, but the blue shirts stand firm to repel that onslaught. Excellent defence from Cullen’s men. 

8Mins

8 mins – Leinster have looked very sharp inside the opening exchanges, which have been played a frenetic pace. Kearney was the man to force Williams into touch on that far side, and we’re going back for a Leinster scrum, with Conan picking and driving from the base. 

10Mins

10 mins – After that early Sexton penalty, Saracens have pitched tent inside the Leinster 22 and the defending champions are being forced to get through huge defensive work early in the contest. This final has been played at a hundred miles an hour. 

11Mins

11 mins – Kearney initially hacks clear after Alex Lozowski stepped a couple of defenders, and while Henshaw does brilliantly to rip possession back, an uncharacteristic handling error from Ringrose hands Saracens another attacking platform. 

12Mins

12 mins – Saracens go left off the scrum but McGrath produces a brilliant covering tackle on Goode, forcing the ball from the fullback’s grasp, with Larmour pouncing and kicking ahead. The Ireland international shows his pace to tear around the outside of Maitland but is just unable to keep another contact on the loose ball, before we’re pulled back for a knock-on. 

14Mins

14 mins – Larmour has been brilliant in the opening quarter. The winger gets himself under a steepling Spencer box-kick and completes a brilliant take in the air under huge pressure from Goode. 

15Mins

It has been a gripping opening quarter in Newcastle.

Robbie Henshaw is tackled by Billy Vunipola and Jamie George Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

16Mins

16 mins – The Sarries pack get a big shove on at scrum-time and they have a penalty advantage coming, but McCall’s side have worked their way up-field with a series of big carries. Leinster under huge pressure again. 

17Mins

17 mins – Another brilliant defensive set from the province as they snuff out the danger but they’re living dangerously. Leinster require a huge counter-ruck on their own line to allow McGrath clear his lines on that far side. Williams is down requiring treatment after he was hit by Kearney. 

18Mins

18 mins – Scott Fardy very nearly disrupts the Saracens lineout but the Wallaby is just unable to gather cleanly and the English side will have the put in to the scrum. McCall’s men starting to win a lot of collisions out there now. 

19Mins

19 mins – Saracens are back within striking distance here as the blue shirts scramble but Barritt is pinged for entering the ruck at the side, and Leinster earn a huge pressure-relieving penalty underneath their own sticks. Garces wasn’t giving it, but his assistant Romain Poite spotted the Saracens captain’s illegal entry.

21Mins

20 mins – Sexton pings it down towards halfway and this is an excellent attacking position for Cullen’s men. They haven’t had much territory inside these opening 20 minutes, but it’s they who lead through their out-half’s boot. 

22Mins

22 mins – We’re into the 15th phase of Leinster’s latest attacking foray here but they’re not going anywhere, and then is turned over. Awesome defence from Saracens. 

23Mins

23 mins – And now it’s Leinster’s turn to come up trumps in defence. Their work-ethic without the ball is phenomenal, with the blue shirts throwing themselves into tackles to repel Saracens. My word, this is intense. 

25Mins

25 mins – Solid set-piece footing for Leinster and out it goes through the hands, with Kearney doing well to re-adjust and get the kick away with his right boot. Lowe puts Williams under pressure and the Saracens winger spills, with Leinster quick to seize possession. 

27Mins

27 mins – The intensity and ferocity of both sides in defence is staggering, meaning every inch has to be earned out there. Back come Leinster as Lowe covers a poor Farrell kick up field. 

28Mins

28 mins – Out of nowhere, Kearney spots a gap on this near side and tears through and very nearly goes all the way. Leinster have numbers in support, and a penalty advantage. Sarries slow the ball down as Sexton throws a long, looping pass out left for Lowe…

29Mins

29 mins – The Kiwi winger runs out of space but does brilliantly to keep it in play for Henshaw, with Leinster recycling hard. They move it back in-field and are within inches of the whitewash. There’s another penalty advantage coming…

29Mins

29 mins – We’re going upstairs to see if Cian Healy got the ball down but the prop doesn’t look too animated and the TMO can’t see any grounding, so we’re going back for a Leinster penalty. 

29Mins

29 mins – And Itoje is being sent to the bin! Garces tells the Sarries skipper that his back row was offside at three different rucks during that move and he has been shown a yellow. 

30Mins

30 mins – It’s all happening now. Saracens have also lost both of their props to injury! And Leinster are going for the kill, with Sexton calling for the scrum under the sticks. 

31Mins

31 mins — Vincent Koch and Richard Barrington are on in the front row for Sarries. This is a big, big moment in the game as McGrath feeds…

32 mins — TRY! Leinster 10-0 Saracens (Furlong)

Leinster are over! Conan drives off the back of the scrum and then O’Brien goes close, before Furlong puts the head down and pumps the legs to get over the whitewash for the opening try of the 2019 Champions Cup final. 

Sexton, after turning down the three points from that penalty, nails the conversion. Leinster lead by 10!

35Mins

35 mins – It’s firmly advantage Leinster in Newcastle, and all that came from Kearney’s break on this near side. Five minutes until the break. 

36Mins

Furlong scores a big try on his 100th Leinster appearance.

Tadhg Furlong is tackled by Maro Itoje and Titi Lamositele Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

36Mins

36 mins – What a turnover! Everything is going Leinster’s way at the minute as Scott Fardy produces a huge pressure-relieving turnover as Saracens looked for an instant response. What a player the Australian has been for Leinster!

37Mins

37 mins – Oh wow. Conan is absolutely bulldozed in midfield and then Sexton is hit by Kruis, as Sarries are off the line with lightning pace. Farrell is calling for the tee and he has the chance to get his side on the board. 

39Mins

39 mins — Penalty! Leinster 10-3 Saracens (Farrell)

The England out-half takes his time but makes no mistake, splitting the posts to bring it back to a one-score game. Itoje is back from the bin, too. 

40Mins

40 mins – Leinster’s kick-chase is poor and that allows Billy Vunipola all the time in the world to safely gather. He’s tackled by Kearney but the Leinster fullback is trapped at the bottom of the ruck and unable to roll away, concedes the penalty. One final attacking platform for Saracens before the break…

40Mins

40 mins – The clock is red but here come Saracens…

40Mins

40 mins – Farrell nails the touchline conversion!

40Mins

Half-time! Leinster 10-10 Saracens

What a half of rugby! Leinster had gained a strong foothold through Sexton’s boot and a Furlong score, but Saracens showed why they are a champion side by pulling it back in the final few minutes of the first period. 

In hindsight, you wonder why McGrath didn’t kick the ball dead with Leinster 10-3 up and the clock in the red, but he didn’t and that allowed Saracens launch one last attack before the break, with Maitland getting over in this near corner.

After 40 minutes of utterly absorbing rugby, this one is on a knife-edge!

40Mins

Right, we’ve had a lie-down and we’re good to go for the second half. The teams are on their way back out. We’re locked at 10-10, but which way do you see this one going now?

41Mins

41 mins – Toner soars into the evening sky to gather and Vunipola is pinged for coming straight in at the side. He clattered into O’Brien there and the flanker requires some treatment. Sexton asks the referee to take a look but Garces isn’t interested. 

42Mins

42 mins – Ruddock is warming up but O’Brien looks okay to continue as Sarries give away another cheap penalty at the lineout. Leinster look to take advantage and go wide, but Larmour gets too much on the kick and chase. Back we go. 

43Mins

43 mins – Strong response here from Leinster after the break. Sexton launches it deep into Saracens territory, and Cronin finds Toner…

44Mins

43 mins – It’s clean ball for Leinster as Furlong hammers into contact but Saracens are relentless in defence and Kruis comes away with the ball, allowing Spencer to clear towards Lowe on this near touchline. 

44Mins

44 mins – Brilliantly won by Lowe in the air to retain possession for Leinster. 

46Mins

46 mins – Leinster are showing patience and accuracy in the tight exchanges but they’re not really going anywhere, with red shirts hammering into the tackles and forcing the defending champions backwards. 

46Mins

46 mins — Jesus, what a passage. Leinster spurn a number of scoring chances before Saracens withstand a long spell of pressure as Williams gets on the ball and Farrell thumps it clear. Ringrose had numbers out wide there but decided to go alone. 

49Mins

49 mins – The Leinster lineout is scrappy and McGrath is bundled into touch. Sarries lineout on halfway. 

50Mins

50 mins – But Leinster win the penalty, and it’s Cian Healy that time. Incredible scrap on the ground and both sides are attacking each other with relentless intensity and ferocity. James Tracy is preparing to come on for Leinster. 

50Mins

50 mins – So Cronin makes way for Tracy in the Leinster front row, and the replacement hooker’s first throw isn’t straight. Difficult start for the Kildare man. 

54Mins

54 mins – After a series of resets, here come Saracens and Larmour is forced to cover as Leinster just about survive. McGrath’s box-kick is brilliantly fielded by Goode, however. 

55Mins

55 mins — Another frantic passage. Barritt puts the head down and makes yards for his side, but Fardy then reads play brilliantly to intercept before throwing it back into the grasp of a Saracens player. Thankfully from a Leinster point of view, we’re going back for the first knock on against Sarries. 

55Mins

55 mins – This is a concern for Leinster, as both Fardy and Henshaw require treatment. The latter looks winded and is slow to pick himself back up but it’ll take a lot to force the Ireland centre off. 

56Mins

We’re approaching the hour mark at St James’ Park.

Jordan Larmour chips down the wing Source: Andrew Fosker/INPHO

56Mins

56 mins — Saracens think they’re over! Jackson Wray makes a powerful break up the middle of the field and Leinster are left scrambling. Sarries keep it tight and hammer away, and it looks like they’re over through Lozowski. Garces is going to his TMO…

57Mins

57 mins — No try! James Tracy does brilliantly in defence and there’s no conclusive evidence that the ball touched the post, so we’re going back for a Saracens penalty. 

58Mins

58 mins – And, just like he did in the first period with Itoje, Garces sends Fardy to the bin for slowing down the ball. Farrell is going to have a shot at the posts. 

59Mins

59 mins — Penalty! Leinster 10-13 Saracens (Farrell)

Sarries lead for the first time in the game as Farrell slots over the three-pointer. 

60Mins

60 mins – So, Leinster have to come from behind with 20 minutes left on the clock if they are to retain their European crown. 

60Mins

60 mins — Kearney goes up in the air and is caught late and high by Maitland and although Garces doesn’t blow, he eventually is called back by his TMO. The French official decides it’s just a penalty and no further punishment against the Saracens winger. 

60Mins

60 mins – Sexton kicks Leinster into Sarries territory on that far side. Big throw here for Tracy after his first one went awry. 

61Mins

61 mins – And he finds his target in Toner. Leinster turn to the maul but they don’t get very far, before McGrath spins it out. The province into the opposition 22 now and they need to make their territory count here. 

62Mins

62 mins – Itoje fights on the ground but Leinster retain possession and then Sexton’s flat pass towards O’Brien is read by Vunipola, who does brilliantly to hold on and complete the turnover. 

63Mins

63 mins – Cullen turns to his bench. Rhys Ruddock and Jack McGrath are on for O’Brien and Healy. 

64Mins

64 mins – Leinster hanging on with 14 men, as they get through a huge defensive set to shut the door on Sarries. The English side will have the put-in five metres out though so the danger isn’t gone just yet. 

65Mins

65 mins – Leinster are being shunted backwards here and the try looks inevitable, but the ball shoots out the back of the scrum and Ringrose manages to scamper clear…but again Garces’ whistle goes and it’s another Saracens penalty. 

68Mins

68 mins – That’s now 20 unanswered points from Sarries. 

69Mins

69 mins – Leinster need a big, big response here. Fardy is back out there to help the cause. 

69Mins

69 mins — Michael Bent is on for Furlong. 

70Mins

70 mins – Leinster are in desperate need of something special here. A record fifth title is slipping away from Cullen’s men…

72Mins

72 mins – Leinster win a penalty and McGrath takes it quickly. 

73Mins

73 mins – Saracens going for the jugular now. They’re within striking distance…

74Mins

74 mins – Vunipola has been so influential all afternoon and it was his intercept that sparked that Saracens onslaught. They could have killed the game off there but Leinster just about hold on. Max Deegan is on for Devin Toner, by the way. 

75Mins

75Mins

75 mins – Sarries have Leinster exactly where they want them here and that clock is ticking down. 

76Mins

76 mins – Leinster are going to have to get from one end of the pitch to the other here as Saracens pin them inside their own 22. 

77Mins

77 mins – But Saracens turn it over…

77Mins

77 mins – It’s just wave-after-wave of Saracens pressure now and while Leinster are fighting to the death, they’re struggling to plug the gaps.

79Mins

78 mins – Leinster have the ball back but they’re still in their own half. Two minutes left. 

79Mins

79 mins – Last throw of the dice for Leinster, but their crown is slipping away. 

80Mins

80 mins – And the clock is red! 

Flag

Full-time! Leinster 10-20 Saracens

Huge disappointment for Leo Cullen’s Leinster as they suffer defeat in a European final for the first time. The province have been dethroned and they will look back on a number of moments either side of the half-time break with regret as they let a 10-point lead slip.

But what an incredible performance from Mark McCall’s Saracens as they claimed a third Champions Cup title in four years, as their big power players came up trumps to see them become the most successful English club in the competition’s history. 

80Mins

You can read Murray Kinsella’s on-the-whistle match report from St James’ Park here.

Owen Farrell celebrates as Billy Vunipola scores a try Source: Andrew Fosker/INPHO

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