The European Challenge Cup and Champions Cup finals take place this weekend, with an all-French affair in the former and the mouth-watering clash between Leinster and Saracens in the showpiece event on Saturday.
I’m not sure why this is taking place now, with just one round to go in the Gallagher Premiership, and in between the quarter-finals and semi-finals in the PRO14, interrupting those competitions yet again, but I’ll continue to put my frustrations at the season structure aside and enjoy this occasion for what it is.
Champions Cup Final: Saracens v Leinster
Saracens and Leinster have been the two best sides in Europe over the last few years, but they rarely seem to meet – Leinster won last year’s quarter-final in relatively convincing fashion, but on a neutral ground and with Saracens enjoying a better season, this should be an excellent contest.
Saracens start as very narrow favourites with the bookies, and I’m inclined to agree – unlike in previous seasons, they have been able to ease up a little in the Premiership with a playoff place long ago secured, and they should come into this match fresh and full of confidence.
Leinster meanwhile haven’t won in the Pro14 since the beginning of March, and whilst they have also been managing players’ workloads, they aren’t exactly coming into this in red hot domestic form.
But they are veritable juggernauts of the European game, and this match will have been the focus for some time. They won convincingly against Toulouse in the semi-final, a side that were fancied by many to win in Dublin, but the young French team was summarily dispatched.
It’s likely that a lucky break, bounce of the ball or a refereeing decision will decide the outcome in a game that is so evenly matched, but I’m still looking for an edge.
The battle between Johnny Sexton and Owen Farrell is likely to have an influence on proceedings, with both capable of being one of the best in the world on their day, but also prone to the odd tantrum and meltdown if things aren’t quite going to plan. No doubt there will have been some words in both camps about targeting the opposition number 10 on Saturday.
With that in mind, I’m looking at the respective back rows and weighing up how they will influence my prediction. Scott Fardy, Sean O’Brien and Jack Conan has the edge over Maro Itoje, Jackson Wray and Billy Vunipola as a nuisance-causing loose forward unit in defence, and for that reason I’m leaning towards Leinster.
Leinster by 2
Challenge Cup Final: Clermont v La Rochelle
This all-French affair should be a good curtain-raiser in Newcastle this evening.
After a dreadful run of form in February and March, La Rochelle have got back to winning ways with 3 Top 14 victories in a row, but I fancy Clermont as the stronger side and they have shown this season that they really want to win this tournament.
Clermont by 13
What do you think? Leinster or Sarries to lift the trophy?