Leinster v Racing 92: Can history repeat itself in Bilbao?
The European Rugby Cup of Champions final takes place this Saturday in Bilbao in a clash between Leinster and Racing 92.
Former champions Leinster are hot favourites going into this match at San Mames Stadium. The Irish province are 1/6 in outright market to win. Racing are 4/1, with the Tie available at 33/1.
If Leinster do win, they will equal Toulouse’s record of four European Cups and become the joint most-successful side in European club rugby.
But do they have the minerals? Well, it certainly looks that way when you analyse their run to the final. The boys in blue are unbeaten in the competition this season. And the only other side to do so and make the final were Saracens.
They have put away top teams like Premiership champions Exeter, Top 14 leaders Montpellier, Saracens, and last season’s Pro 12 champions, the Scarlets.
A good portion of their starting 15 make up Ireland’s Grand Slam winning side. Head coach Leo Cullen has got an abundance of world-class talent at his disposal – both experienced, and fledgling.
In essence, they have the perfect balance of sparkling youth and stellar veterans. But enough about Leinster, what about Racing?
The French Top 14 outfit are a high-class side with their own blend of brilliance. Think Teddy Thomas on the wing, or Yannick Nyanga in the back-row. And that’s not to mention the incomparable former All-Black Dan Carter at out-half.
The Paris club have never won this competition, though. In fact, they have only ever made the final once. And they were beaten by Saracens in Lyon.
In the semi-finals, they threatened to reel off a big win against another Irish team in Munster. Laurent Labit’s side blitzed Conor Murray and co. in the first half. But the Red Army fought back and so nearly caught the Parisians.
Munster weren’t great that day. And the Southern Irish province are not on the same level as this all-action Leinster side.
They blew away Llanelli Scarlet 38-16 at the Aviva Stadium in a breathless attacking performance. The match handicap mark is set at +/12 here. And that’s a touch generous given the fact that it’s still a final and Racing are a quality outfit.
However, the big team news from the game is that Racing’s mercurial scrum-half and goal-kicker Maxime Machenaud is out through injury.
That’s a huge blow to the Top 14 giants. Leinster have no such worries with only Fergus McFadden absent. They can depend on the likes of Johnny Sexton, Cian Healy, Tadhg Furlong, James Lowe and Rob Kearney.
It’s been Ireland’s year so far with Joe Schmidt’s side sweeping the board in the Six Nations. The last time Ireland won a Grand Slam in 2009, Leinster went on to win the European Cup in the same season.
As Schmidt famously said, history can’t protect you from the future. But it would surprise no one if history repeated itself once more in the heart of the Basque Country.
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All Odds and Markets correct as of date of publication