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'Back-to-back were the words at the start of the season, it would be an incredible achievement '

Leinster and Robbie Henshaw are embracing their shot at history this weekend.
May 8th 2019, 5:15 PM 8,087 10

LEINSTER HAVE NOT shirked away from the fact they will need to produce the performance of their lives to topple Saracens on Saturday, so rather than be burdened by the challenge, Leo Cullen’s side have embraced their shot at history.

The prospect of two European titans going tête-à-tête in a high-stakes contest this weekend has set the pulses racing among supporters, and certainly, the potential for this to be one of the great Champions Cup finals is all there. 

Robbie Henshaw Robbie Henshaw speaking to media this week. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

No sooner had Leinster come off the pitch having beaten Toulouse in the semi-final, Johnny Sexton had already laid down the challenge to his team-mates, describing this St James’ Park decider ‘as the biggest battle of our careers’.

And the defending champions, although confident in their own star quality and attacking strengths, know to win a record fifth European title in Newcastle will require an almighty effort from 1 to 23, from minute one to 80.

“Physicality stands out when you mention Saracens,” Robbie Henshaw smiles. “Looking at their game against Munster it was pretty much a dog-eat-dog competition and we need to be ready for what’s to come in the air. They went after Munster in the air.

“They are one of the best teams in Europe when you look at their record and their results in this year’s competition. It’s definitely going to be the biggest challenge this year.”

Mark McCall’s well-oiled Saracens machine have swatted all challengers aside en route to the decider, and in that semi-final victory over Munster at Coventry, flexed their considerable muscle in an utterly ruthless and clinical display. 

Not only did the English champions dominate the contest on the ground, but they managed to suffocate and disrupt Munster through their defensive work-rate, an accurate and intelligent kicking game and their ability to relentlessly hammer away with ball in hand. 

While Leinster are fully aware of Saracens’ champion quality, the message all week has been to focus on what the province do well and impose their gameplan on the final, rather than let Sarries stamp their authority on proceedings.

“We’ve done our homework and know what’s to come but it’s how we deal with the pressure that will be put on us in the game,” Henshaw continues. “We need to be incredibly clinical, we need to be physical and we need to drive those.

“For us, we need to get our performance spot on. That means doing the basic things well and being as clinical as we can on the day.

“Toulouse was a good performance I suppose. It was always going to be a tricky game. We needed to have a good gameplan going against them and definitely, there is another gear in us. I think we can improve again on that. We’ll just look to keep doing the best we can week in, week out and hopefully this week we pull our best performance out of the bag.”

After a nine-week layoff with the deeply frustrating dead leg injury he sustained on the opening weekend of the Six Nations, Henshaw timed his return to perfection as he slotted back into Leinster’s midfield seamlessly for the last four win. 

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His presence in the 12 jersey inside Garry Ringrose was absolutely essential for the province that day, and likewise on Saturday, 25-year-old Henshaw’s defensive nous, aerial strengths and assured partnership with Ringrose will be key.

Set to line up against Alex Lozowski and Sarries’ veteran skipper Brad Barritt on Saturday, the Ireland international says: “Their skipper Brad Barritt, I saw him against Munster when he came off at half-time but he played really well for 40 minutes when he seemed to have a bit of a knock. It maybe shows the kind of person he is that he put his hand up even he wasn’t 100%. 

Robbie Henshaw and Johnny Sexton with Sofiane Guitoune and Sebastien Bezy Henshaw was outstanding on his return against Toulouse. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“He played unbelievable in the minutes he played. Lozowski is a deceptive player. He played a lot at 10 but he is pretty quick and he is strong in contact so we will have our work cut out on the day and know that the likes of Liam Williams and Alex Goode are deadly when they get ball in space.

“We’ll have to be ready and on our toes for what’s to come.”

As the biggest game in northern hemisphere club rugby edges closer, and excitement turn to nerves, Henshaw says the Leinster dressing room has openly spoken about the prospect of becoming the most successful team in the history of the competition. That level of expectation is not weighing them down. 

“It’s something we sat down and had a chat about during the start of the season. Everyone is so keen to achieve that bit of history, it’s a huge drive for us a collective,” the centre adds. “If we were to do that, it would be incredible.

Back-to-back were the words at the start of the season from some of the players and to be in that position now, it would be an incredible achievement at the end of the season.

“For us, we’re just cherishing it. It’s almost going to be like an international game in ways. We’ll need our full support behind us and we can’t underestimate the support we’ve had throughout the year and the years gone by. I think it has definitely helped. We’ll need them in full voice this weekend.”

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