Champions Cup final; Forward power the key to victory

Champions Cup Final
The Champions Cup trophy is displayed at the San Mames stadium in Bilbao on May 11, 2018 on the eve of the European Champions Cup final rugby union match between Leinster and Racing 92. (Photo by Christophe SIMON / AFP) (Photo credit should read CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP/Getty Images)

Leinster and Racing92 are well known for their forward prowess, and have displayed it throughout their successful Champions Cup campaign. It’s recently been written that Racing could, if they wished, put out a pack weighing in excess of 1000kg. It’s not the side they have gone with, but here’s a look how both sides will utilise their forward dominance in a bid for European glory.

 Leinster’s pod formation

We’ll start off looking at Leinster. Two big victories against Saracens and the Scarlets have got them dominantly through the knock-outs. Racking up the second most points in a single game in Champions Cup knockout history against the Scarlets.

The key to their success isn’t just down to having eight world class starters and immaculate depth to come off the bench to make an impact, but it’s their technique whilst attacking. They completely dominated their opponents using a formidable pod carrying formation thin their last two games to gain yards and score tries.

Champions Cup

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As seen above, the ball carrier makes the initial drive with another man straight in behind to clear out and seal over, allowing for quick ball and little time for a team to set up defensively.

Leinster’s intensity throughout their quarter and semi finals was something unseen by most. It was ferocious, fierce and wasn’t able to be matched by either of their opponents. Both of whom were out muscled.

Leinster also have a strong scrum with Healy and Furlong propping it up in superb fashion, they’ll be expecting to be equally matched by the French duo, Eddy Ben Arous and Cedate Gomes Sa.

The real danger area for Leinster is their driving maul off the line-out. Potent weapons such as James Ryan and Devin Tonar bringing in ball aplenty as Scott Fardy and Dan Leavy get the opportunity to drive on.

Leinster will have to be weary that Racing themselves pose a huge threat at not only their own line-outs, but to their oppositions. Winning 18% of the oppositions lineout ball. Stolen equally three times by Leone Nakarawa, Wenceslas Lauret and Baptiste Chouzenoux.

Racing’s Breakdown specialists

Aside from an all French international front row, Racing have an abundance of talented threats in the second and back row. Leone Nakarawa is not only a huge lineout target, but also has an amazing ability to carry at close quarters and all around the park. Leinster are going to be very careful how they target him as he offloads incredibly and more often than one may expect of a lock.

Leinster will want to slow the ball down at the breakdown to stop Pat Lambie and Dan Carter getting ball from Teddy Iribaren. Two fly halves that know how to control the game to their own needs.

Leinster won’t have it all their own way with Wenceslas Lauret and Yannick Nyanga experts at dominating breakdown’s, creating turnovers and also defending well. Something that will certainly come in handy if Leinster use their pod formation from the get go.

Physical Champions Cup final lies ahead

Two of the most physical teams in teams in the competition battling it off for the biggest trophy in world club rugby will without a doubt leave some battered bodies out there after the final whistle.

Battles of Nakarawa vs Tonar and Nyanga vs Jordi Murphy are certain to be monstrous. Collisions around the park will be massive and the breakdown will be hotly contested.

Look for Leinster to start winning the breakdown with their pod carrying, but Racing to counteract it with a huge scrum and turnover making lineout.

With the weather set for a sunny day in Bilbao, the Champions Cup final will be open for running rugby and both sides have a set of backs capable of playing such rugby.

Powerful running games behind

Racing have a big pairing in midfield, combining Henry Chavancy and Virimi Vakatawa. Lambie or Carter will be looking to get these running down Sexton’s channel and making yards after contact.

If they can get the momentum through this then the back row can setup quick ball for deadly finishers in Teddy Thomas to pounce and score tries for them.

Leinster equally have power runners behind their pack with Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose being a key part of Ireland’s Grand Slam side. Controlled by Jonny Sexton and Luke McGrath the Leinster backs are capable of running riot if the forwards gain the platform they desire, just ask Saracens and the Scarlets.

Tactical kicking game in store

Sexton is well known for a superb kicking game, something he has put to very good use for both Leinster and Ireland this season. Linking up with his Irish teammates allows Sexton to have that knowledge of exactly where to place the ball when kicking it and that can be a dangerous weapon for Leinster early doors.

Expect Carter to do similar things when and if he makes his appearance off the bench during Saturday’s final. If Racing or Leinster lie within three points in the dying minutes there would be the very possibility of a drop goal. Such as the one’s displayed by Sexton and Carter at the French 2018 Six Nations game and 2015 Rugby World Cup final respectively.

Close battle for the 2017/18 Champions Cup

Both sides have demonstrated power, poise and perfection throughout the campaign and expect them to do the same on Saturday. Leinster will be vying for a fourth crown, having never lost a final they’ve been part of. Racing however, will be looking to add their first Champions Cup title following their only final ending in defeat to Saracens in 2015-16.



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