Key Clash Preview: Saracens v Leinster

Wembley stadium

Wembley StadiumDate: Saturday 16th of October
Kick off: 17:45
Venue: Wembey Stadium

The hosts return to their adopted home of Wembley Stadium for arguably their biggest challenge at this venue. The loss to London Irish at Twickenham in Round One has been their only blip so far, with impressive victories over Northampton and Leicester at home. Jacques Burger at 7 has been hugely influential, but for Saracens to win this one they will need the ever reliable boot of Derick Hougaard slotting every chance he gets.

There are conflicting reports in the press on the fitness of the talismanic Brian O’Driscoll, and whilst Leinster would deny it, his participation takes them to another level. Their win over Racing Metro last weekend was an indication to all competitors than they are a major force in this year’s tournament. Their form in the Magners League has been erratic, but last week’s performance and the win over Munster has galvanised them and eased the pressure on head coach Josef Schmidt.

What to expect:
A big occasion for the biggest game of the weekend. Saracens may receive some grief and scepticism from some fans for their dreadful marketing gimmicks (see the Dominos five minute mayhem and Right Said Fred track), but they do know how to pull in the crowds, though I doubt anyone under 40 has the foggiest idea who Tinie Tempah is.

In terms of the rugby, Saracens want to become a major European force, and apart from their 2008 semi-final finish, they are yet to establish themselves at this level. Their rugby has been direct through their powerful forwards, but they have some quality finishers in Strettle, Tagicakibau and Wyles to name a few. Leinster showed some aggressive defence and very physical attacking play as they battered Racing Metro at the RDS, so if Saracens play the same then expect the guys in the middle to be a bit bruised by the final whistle.

All eyes on:
Saracens star player Schalk Brits will no doubt be targeted by the Leinster defence, but that in a sense goes to show just how much of a threat he can be on the field. In big games like these he is Saracens ace in the pack, and they will need him to cause havoc to not only get in behind the Leinster defence, but create space for others. Luke Fitzgerald is only recently returning after a long lay-off, and the Leinster utility back will be looking to put in as many big performances as possible in the build up the Autumn Internationals. His form when Leinster won the competition in 2008 led to him winning a Lions berth, and if is anywhere near that on Saturday then Saracens are in trouble.

Head to head: Steve Borthwick v Nathan Hines
Two big bruisers in the engine rooms. Borthwick will need his lineout to run like clockwork to not only give Sarries a strong attacking platform, but also get them out of some sticky situations in their own half. You can’t help but feel he still has a point to prove to Martin Johnson regarding his relegation to the Saxons, and this is exactly the time to do it. Leinster’s Hines is the man to ruin Borthwick’s best laid plans, and his hard work around the park never goes unnoticed. If Saracens don’t hit him early and hard, watch him make space for his support runners to cut through. A hugely influential player for the men from Dublin given the absence of Leo Cullen.

Weather forecast: Sun and clear skies, so hopefully plenty of running rugby for the eager spectator in a fantastic venue.

SportGuru prediction statistics: Saracens 52.81%, Leinster 44.98%, Draw 1.21%

Prediction: Leinster will bring everything to the table, O’Driscoll or not. My gut feeling is that this is a game where whichever pack gains the early supremacy will end up the winner, so the scrums and lineouts are crucial. Leinster have plenty of firepower in the backline but Saracens might have more raw pace. All in all the two sides seem relatively well balanced, which makes it all that harder to predict. However, if Leinster are without O’Driscoll, then Saracens by 3.

By Ben Coles (@bennycoles)