Belfast Telegraph

Leinster set to stamp their class on Saracens

By David Kelly

Leinster wake up this weekend as one of the leading contenders to win this year's Heineken Cup.

They could well end it by securing their status as undoubted favourites.

All that mocks them is the thin line that separates confidence from complacency.

There seems little chance of the latter failing afflicting them. Saracens arrive talking a good game but doubts surround their capability of playing one.

Six months into Joe Schmidt's reign as coach, his team bear all the hallmarks of a well-oiled machine, suited to peaking at just the right time to inject some fizz into their Heineken campaign.

Wins here and next week in Paris will guarantee them a home quarter-final, at which stage few in Europe would fancy their chances. Beyond that, unless Leinster travel to, say, Toulouse without, say, their first-choice out-half, few would bet against them winning a second European crown in three years.

Heaven forfend, they could be on a hat-trick!

Schmidt's calm exterior betrays a ruthless mind.

Take the reverse of this fixture, a Wembley victory which appreciates in value with every passing day.

Then, Brian O'Driscoll cried off and Fergus McFadden was spoken of highly by the coach but Luke Fitzgerald slotted into the breach.

Fast forward and, his return from injury not withstanding, Fitzgerald is unable to elbow his way into the starting line-up ahead of full-back Isa Nacewa — arguably Leinster's player of the year thus far — or McFadden, flying it at wing and nailed down in the 11 jumper.

Form trumps reputation; hence, Dominic Ryan is given the nod ahead of Kevin McLaughlin, the latter also, like Fitzgerald, just recently returned from injury.

There may have been some subconscious pressure to adhere to national wishes and play Fitzgerald at full-back; yet this team is the best Schmidt feels is available to him to win today.

His choice of Eoin Reddan at scrum-half will divide some; next week, it is likely he will start Isaac Boss.

The grand plan outweighs any individual discrimination.

Saracens will be committed to slowing down Leinster's ball as much as they felt the Irish stemmed their flow on that Wembley D-Day for Schmidt's Heineken Cup campaign; aside from destruction, what else do Saracens have to offer?

With a kid at out-half and a shaky full-back, Sarries are very much in damage limitation mode; they are out of the competition but Leinster expect them to fling the dice for a tilt at the Challenge Cup.

“I thought they showed some real unity to turn around and go to Paris in difficult conditions and win,” says Schmidt of their last performance in this competition, winning away to racing Metro.”

Expect Leinster to have their championship heads on. A championship performance awaits.

Belfast Telegraph

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