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From scraps to shoot-outs, Byrne's boot to Billy's boos: Saracens and Leinster's path to the 2019 final

Here’s how Europe’s best two teams proved themselves this season.

THE BIG DAY is upon us. The 24th Heineken Champions Cup final is down for decision and the best two teams in Europe will tear lumps off one another for the right to lift the trophy.

From 5pm Saturday evening we’ll see whether England can claim a ninth European title via a third for Saracens. Or whether Leinster will become the most successful side in the tournament’s history by taking a fifth crown, in what would be an eighth success for Ireland.

Before we completely pack down for action, here’s a reminder of how these two brilliant sides got to the big stage in Newcastle’s St James’ Park.

Out of the blocks

Opening night saw Leinster begin their title defence. And they looked every bit a champion side as they made short work of Wasps thanks to an early burst from Sean Cronin and a cracker from James Lowe.

Source: BT Sport/YouTube

Saracens had their toughest task of the pool stage first up, a trip north to Glasgow. The Warriors were more than willing, but just unable to break open the English champions during a 3-13 loss.

The one time Glasgow did think they had cracked the code, Maro Itoje joined in the celebrations.

Round two

French opposition for both sides, but Saracens romped to victory over Lyon after Itoje romped over the try-line from 50 metres out. Ridiculous stuff for a lock to be at.

Source: BT Sport/YouTube

The following day, Leinster and Toulouse played out one of the games of the year, and lost in Europe for the first (and still only) time since the 2017 semi-final defeat to Clermont.

Toulouse were back playing champagne rugby and it was glorious to watch (from 2.20 in the video below).

Source: Heineken Champions Cup/YouTube

 December back-to-backs

December can often be about digging your way out of a hole and Leinster certainly battled their way to ‘win ugly’ in Bath thanks to a Jordan Larmour intercept before they casually carved through the same opponents a week later at the Aviva.

Adam Byrne claims a high ball ahead of Darren Atkins Adam Byrne leaped highest to offer an extra aerial weapon for Leinster. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Similarly enough, though the home and away matches were the other way around, Sarries had to hold their nerve while being run close by the Blues in Cardiff – Jamie George’s late try sealed a 16-26 win. A week earlier, the Blues had been swatted aside in a 7-try 51-25 loss.

Closing out the pool

Leinster took control of the pool by offering Toulouse a signal of what was to come in their later meeting in the competition, Dave Kearney’s athleticism helped the province to a 29-13 bonus point win.

Meanwhile, Saracens’ march to the knockouts was confirmed thanks to the power and footwork of Nick Tompkins. They sealed a bonus point with 20 minutes to spare away to Lyon and the hosts were restricted to just three points before the 70th minute mark.

Source: Heineken Champions Cup/YouTube

Qualification secured, Saracens could afford to let their hair down for round six.

Unfortunately for Glasgow, they seemed to only succeed in poking the bear by scoring three tries in the opening 21 minutes. And so their 17-19 lead led to a 38-19 defeat.

Tempers flare off the ball Tempers flare in the January clash at Allianz Park. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Leinster ended the pool stage in the Ricoh Arena and made it a rare happy hunting ground for recent Irish sides, with Max Deegan, Rory O’Loughlin and Noel Reid combining for a gem of a try to ice the cake.

Source: BT Sport/YouTube

 Familiar opponents for the quarters

As if twice wasn’t enough, Glasgow were thrown in to face Saracens a third time.

In the knockout version of the rivalry, Dave Rennie’s men managed to put 27 points on the board. Saracens cranked up the intensity again, though, and scored seven tries to continue their winning streak.

Source: BT Sport/YouTube

Leinster were heavy favourites at home to their neighbours to the north, but amid an immense Ulster effort a rare blip in the meteoric rise of Jacob Stockdale came as a massive let-off for the champions.

Source: Extreme Rugby Highlights/YouTube

Of course, you make your own luck too. And Ross Byrne had to play through the pain barrier before slotting a nerveless late winner.

Source: BT Sport/YouTube

Semi-final showdowns

Saracens were met head-on by Munster in Coventry and the match was developing nicely into a tense and tight arm-wrestle… right up until the point Michael Rhodes broke through in the third minute of the second half.

Billy Vunipola is confronted by a Munster fan after the game Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Billy Vunipola was jeered throughout for his support of Israel Folau, but after he sealed the win with a late try, one Munster fan literally crossed the line when delivering his own points of view.

Source: BT Sport/YouTube

Jonathan Sexton pulled on the Leinster jersey for the first time in 2019 as Toulouse arrived at the Aviva for the semi-final. 

With Lowe again in rampant form, the reigning champions were an irresistible force as they earned their fifth Champions Cup final appearance. 

Something has got to give.

Gavan Casey, Murray Kinsella and Bernard Jackman tee up Saturday’s Champions Cup final and look at the backroom problems in Munster.:


Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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