It’s no surprise to hear Johnny Sexton describe Saturday’s Heineken Champions Cup final between Saracens and Leinster as similar to a Test match.
One only needs to take a look at the starting XVs for both sides to see international quality littered throughout.
When it comes to the physicality stakes, Irish sides, be it provincial or national, pride themselves on winning the battle up front but like at the Aviva Stadium in early February, many Irish players couldn’t handle what their English counterparts brought to the table.
Similarities have been drawn between that match involving Ireland and England and the Heineken Champions Cup final.
James Ryan, who was involved in both games, posted impressive numbers yesterday [19 carries and 19 tackles] and for someone who was at the coalface in both fixtures, he is possibly the best candidate to talk about any valid comparisons.
“I thought it was as physical as it gets, from what I’ve experienced anyway. It’s definitely Test match standard. Some of the collisions were big, as we knew they would be, but I don’t think they physically dominated us by any kind of means.
“I think we had patches where we were strong in that area, and so did they. So it was two big strong packs that I think went toe to toe, and they got the upper hand. Credit to them, they took their chances and they deserved it.”
“Yeah, they were physical, just as England were. A strong set-piece and obviously Billy Vunipola makes a difference, so yeah, in terms of comparisons, two strong packs.”
Sexton also used the Test match analogy and he described the physical battle as “ferocious” but he also reserved praise for his side for standing up to the onslaught which their opponents brought to proceedings.
“Yeah, it was ferocious. It was Test match stuff. We knew it was going to be.
“The one thing I will say is I’m incredibly proud of everyone, the way we fronted up and never took a backwards step. There were times when we weren’t missing any tackles and we were conceding maybe half a yard then half a yard and they’re very good at what they do. They try and steamroll and at times they did that very well.
“Like I said, it’s a big regret and you’d love to go and play the match again, but you don’t. You never want that to happen in a final, you want to have no regrets and we’ll look back at some key moments, especially at the start of the second half when I just felt we had the upper and we didn’t quite capitalize on it.”
What may come as consolation to Leinster supporters is that their captain is confident they can reach this stage of the competition next year where another showdown with Saracens would no doubt prove to be another fantastic spectacle.
“Well, you saw it for large periods. I don’t think it’s arrogant to say or overconfident that we’ve been the two best sides in Europe. We met at a quarter-final stage last year, I think obviously we had home advantage that day, today neutral venue, and they just got the upper hand.
“So we feel we’re close to the top. Obviously, you don’t get to a final if you’re not near the top. We’ll just take lots of learnings from it, and I think we’ll bounce back.”