Leinster will field an unchanged team for their Heineken Champions Cup final clash with Saracens at St. James’ Park in Newcastle on Saturday evening (kick-off 5pm).
Head coach Leo Cullen has stuck with the winning formula from their 30-12 semi-final victory over Toulouse last month. Sean Cronin, who injured his calf during that game, is fit to start at hooker, while Jack McGrath and fit-again back rower Rhys Ruddock have been added to the bench.
Wexford man Tadhg Furlong will make his 100th appearance for the province in the European title decider. He starts in an all-international set of forwards, combining again with Cronin, the tournament’s joint-top try scorer with six tries, and Cian Healy in the front row.
Second rows Devin Toner and James Ryan complete the tight five, with Sean O’Brien and Jack Conan the only changes to the Leinster pack that started last season’s 30-19 quarter-final win over Saracens. The pair are joined in the back row by Australian international Scott Fardy, a European Player of the Year nominee in 2018.
Jonathan Sexton, the man-of-the-match against Toulouse with a 12 -point haul, will captain the side from half-back alongside Luke McGrath, with Garry Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw starting their second successive Champions Cup final in the centre.
James Lowe, who has scored six tries in eight European appearances, features on the left wing, 21-year-old flyer Jordan Larmour is stationed on the right, and rock-solid full-back Rob Kearney makes his third Champions Cup final start as Cullen’s squad chase a record-breaking fifth European crown.
Looking forward to tomorrow’s game, Henshaw said:
I think physicality stands out when you mention Saracens. Looking at their game against Munster, it was pretty much a dog-eat-dog competition and we need to be ready for what’s to come in the air. They’re one of the best teams in Europe from their record in the pool stages and in this competition.
“It’s definitely going to be our biggest challenge this year. Toulouse was a good performance, it was always going to be a tricky game. We needed to have a good game-plan going against them and I think, definitely, there is another gear in us.
“I’ve heard it’s an unbelievable stadium, St. James’ Park. I was watching Newcastle (Falcons) play there a few weeks back, I think it was against Sale, and even the pitch looks incredible, it looks like a carpet. It’s going to be a great occasion. Hopefully it’s a fast track and a dry ball.”
Leinster are unbeaten in three European Cup matches against Saracens, including last year’s quarter-final. They have won 16 of their last 17 tournament fixtures since the beginning of the 2017/18 campaign. The sole defeat came against Toulouse in round 2 of this season’s pool stages.
LEINSTER (v Saracens): Rob Kearney; Jordan Larmour, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe; Jonathan Sexton (capt), Luke McGrath; Cian Healy, Sean Cronin, Tadhg Furlong, Devin Toner, James Ryan, Scott Fardy, Sean O’Brien, Jack Conan.
Replacements: James Tracy, Jack McGrath, Michael Bent, Rhys Ruddock, Max Deegan, Hugh O’Sullivan, Ross Byrne, Rory O’Loughlin.