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Dublin: 7°C Wednesday 28 October 2020

Leinster 'still chasing' Saracens as foes finally meet again

It’s been 16 months and zero defeats since Leinster faced Mark McCall’s European champions. They’re eager to avenge the result in Newcastle.

James Lowe's at yesterday's captain's run at the Aviva.
James Lowe's at yesterday's captain's run at the Aviva.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

16 MONTHS HAVE passed since Leinster last tasted defeat. 25 matches, each win impressive in its own right and testament to the work-rate and talent housed inside the walls of an unremarkable building on the western edge of UCD’s campus.

None of the 25 wins delivered the satisfaction of avenging their last defeat, though. That opportunity comes around at 3pm this afternoon.

The game means even more to Saracens than it does to Leinster. The only match that matters since the English champions were relegated from the Premiership. Throw a six-month sporting shutdown into the mix and it’s quite an understatement to say that these two teams have been eyeing one another up from a long way out.

“It still feels like we’re chasing them now,” says Leinster head coach Leo Cullen, who has spent the entire season talking down his team’s winning run and turning attention to the need to make the streak count in trophy terms.

“After winning the (2018) quarter-final here a couple of years ago, to lose (the final) in Newcastle last season was hugely disappointing for our group.

“Ever since we’ve gone back to that game at various different stages to try to figure out, if we had our time again, what we’d do differently.

“Learning from that failure I suppose is the most important thing, to get better in the quest for the perfect performance. We still haven’t got there, whether we ever will or not I’m not sure.”

There is no such thing as a perfect performance whenever a decent opponent is there to be destructive, but the drive to improve is vital.

And while Leinster were ploughing their way through domestic opponents to claim a third straight Pro14 title, they were also making sure to keep a little in reserve so that they could throw it all at Saracens today.

A stint on the bench for Jonathan Sexton here, rotating opensides there and Cullen admits there must be variations in their play too in order to unbalance a superb team who have been scrutinising their every move.

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“Definitely, I think that’s important week to week that you do that,” says the former lock.

garry-ringrose Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Cullen notes that some of Leinster’s dry powder is down to wet weather in a match like the semi-final win over Munster, but conditions at the Aviva today should allow Leinster be as ambitious as they dare to be against the only side with a defence as suffocating as their own.

Analysing Mark McCall’s men has been tricky too. Their Premiership campaign is a wash, so they have been able to experiment and rotate to a greater degree than Leinster. Cullen was keen to to see how they fared against Wasps – who he sees as having a similar style to Leinster – but Owen Farrell’s red card changed that game completely.

And, for that matter, today’s.

“I suppose the teams since the lockdown period would have spent months really analysing each other. That can be dangerous as well, over-analysing teams to death and not focus on yourself. It’s trying to get that balance.

“You don’t want to play yourself into trouble against a team like Saracens because as we found out in the past, they’re a hard team to chase.”

Saracens will be thinking the exact same thing.

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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