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Henshaw knows he has skills to give Blues an edge in Euro final

Loose man: Robbie Henshaw can draw on his GAA skills
Loose man: Robbie Henshaw can draw on his GAA skills

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Robbie Henshaw thought he was done scrapping for breaking ball around the middle third, yet on Saturday he'll find himself putting his body on the line in a fight for possession like he did in the old days when he was a Westmeath minor footballer.

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Against Munster, Saracens played a spoiling game in the air - chasing Ben Spencer's box-kicks with the intention of slapping the ball back on their own side and winning the battle on the ground.

It proved to be an excellent move. Catching the ball is a far more difficult skill than breaking it backwards, and so, when Mike Haley went to catch the ball in the traditional way, he was beaten by David Strettle who went after it at its highest point.

Although there is every chance Sarries could try something different this time, Leinster are ready for the tactic just in case.

Already, Rob Kearney has spoken about the need to be aware.

"Their kicking game was superb," he said last month. "I felt a little bit bad for the Munster back three because Sarries were going up just to break ball, and if a man is going up to do that, it's very hard to take a clean catch."

So the race to be first to the breaking ball will be key and Henshaw is ready to get amongst it, with possession set to be a key factor between two evenly matched teams.

"Breaking ball, absolutely," said Henshaw with a smile as the GAA analogy is drawn. "I haven't actually mentioned it but I might mention it during the week, breaking ball.

"I think the scraps are going to be huge so beating them to the ball on the floor and those individual battles are going to be key.

"Getting the edge on your opposite number in the game is going to be huge. If that does happen, whatever team can win those loose balls will thrive."

Munster have been criticised for not doing enough to stop Saracens' chasers from applying pressure.

All season, chasing players have been buffeted by opponents running so-called 'escort' lines and referees have largely turned a blind eye to the illegality.

This has reduced the dangerous aerial contests and the risk of mid-air collisions, but Saracens' spoiling tactic is perhaps a response.

So Leinster have been working on their own way of dealing with the men in black's excellent kick-chase approach.

"The wingers do a lot of their individual work with a lot of pressure on them going up for the ball, so there will be a lot of that done in our unit block session with the kicking coach," Henshaw said.

"They'd be doing a lot of that individual stuff with someone coming in, pressurising them, trying to get in their face, so we've done a bit of prep."

Although Saracens have a host of threats, Owen Farrell is the key man in their set-up.

Henshaw knows the out-half well from their time together on the 2017 Lions tour, while he was on the receiving end of some of the England star's kicks during his stint at full-back in Ireland's Six Nations loss in February.

By the sounds of things, a large part of the Blues' focus is on putting pressure on the No.10.

"We've had a lot of time to look at him so we'll do our best to go after him," Henshaw said.

"I know he's an incredibly skilled player, he has a variety of plays that he can pull out of the bag, so I think it's about what we can do to hopefully put as much pressure on him as we can. But we'll have to be squeaky clean in terms of our discipline and not give them many shots at goal.

"We've had a lot of time to have a look, not just at him but at Alex Goode, who is another man who is dangerous.

"When the boys have gone into English camp, he's taken over the reins at 10 and 15, so he's probably a guy who is not mentioned as much.

"I played a bit with him (Farrell) in training and I played one game with him but yeah, he's a similar character to Johnny (Sexton) in terms of how he runs the game and he's demanding.

"He's a good leader so he's pivotal in Sarries' attack. He really drives them on in terms of their structure and their game plan.

"I know Stuart's had a good look and he knows the guys from coaching them before, so that's a good bit of info to have. For us as well, we know how they play from playing them beforehand, but definitely we need to take it up another gear."

All week, the build-up will be dominated by international match-ups and talk of tactics, but for those who enter the white heat of battle, it could simply come down to who is first to the breaking ball.

Saracens

Leinster

European Rugby Champions Cup Final

St James' Park, Newcastle, Saturday, 5.00pm

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