Leinster go into Saturday’s Champions Cup final with Racing 92 firmly established as favourites which is no surprise considering they have gone unbeaten since they began their campaign with a 24-17 win over Montpellier at the RDS in October.
Their Guinness PRO14 form has also been excellent, with a home semi-final already secured against Munster in 10 days time.
However, all attention is firmly focussed on this weekend where the eastern province could join Toulouse in being just the second side to win the European Cup four times.
Racing 92 produced a first-half blitz against Munster to consign Johann van Graan’s side to yet another semi-final exit and Leinster will need to prevent the same failures as that Munster team to avoid a similar fate.
Here, we take a look at where the game will be won and lost for Leinster in Bilbao on Saturday.
Stopping Racing 92 In Their Tracks
One of the main reasons that Munster conceded those three first-half tries in that semi-final in Bordeaux was because they were on the back-foot from the off.
As Munster soaked tackle after tackle, they were losing significant ground to their opponents and this results in a defensive structure which takes longer to set. The consequence of this is that a team’s defence is under pressure and out of position. This was exploited to perfection by the Racing 92 backline which allowed the electric Teddy Thomas too much time and space on the wing to do what he does best.
Leinster will want to get their hands on the ball as soon as possible on Saturday but failing this they must front up physically in the tackle so that Racing do not generate quick ball and momentum.
Munster failed in this area spectacularly and it allowed the Parisian outfit to build up what resulted in an insurmountable lead.
Set Piece Parity
Although Leinster can generate excellent tries from almost anywhere on the pitch, they are no different to any other team in the world who rely on a solid set-piece to launch their attacks.
Munster rely on their scrum and lineout to a great extent for much of their attacking play and although van Graan is keen to broaden this, they are still some way off the likes of their provincial rivals.
Nonetheless, Leinster, like Ireland, have some devastating power-plays in their books but they won’t be able to launch these successfully if Donnacha Ryan causes the same problems to Leinster’s lineout that he did against Munster.
Ryan wreaked havoc in the air in Bordeaux and he will fancy his chances of doing the same against some familiar players in the Leinster forwards.
Leinster will need to mix their jumpers as much as possible to keep Ryan, Leone Nakarawa and Yannick Nyanga guessing at lineout time in order to generate quick, clean ball.
There are no shortage of intriguing head-to-head battles in this game but perhaps the battle on the flanks could be seen as the most important.
Thomas caused considerable damage against Munster and it is likely that he will be coming up against the experienced Isa Nacewa.
The Racing back-three have the ability to power through or side-step one-v-one challenges and although it may sound simple, Leinster will need to be careful in this area not to lose one up tackles.
The latest report coming out this week suggests that Jordan Larmour will get the nod on the right wing ahead of James Lowe, although Larmour will have experience from his Ireland exploits, this could prove to be the biggest test of his career.
He was exposed defensively at times during Ireland’s Grand Slam campaign and this could be an area which Racing look to exploit if he is named to start as expected.