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Saracens to edge epic final


Saracens to edge epic final - Andy Goode

It’s hard to remember a European Cup final that was so tough to call and with two teams at the height of their powers to such an extent but I’m putting my money on Saracens after extra time.

Brad Barritt being back from his ankle injury is massive for Saracens. Had he not been fit and Nick Tompkins and Alex Lozowski had been coming up against Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose in the centres, you’d probably have given Leinster a significant edge in that department.

It’ll be interesting to see how long he lasts for and if he’s fully fit but his calmness and leadership, as well as his defence, is a massive boost and should help Owen Farrell no end.

Saracens captain Brad Barritt holds the Champions Cup trophy aloft after the 2017 final in Edinburgh (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

The other big selection for me is Will Skelton being picked in the second row and Maro Itoje being shifted to blindside to accommodate him. Mark McCall has gone for all out size and power.

He knows Leinster have a very good set piece and a really strong driving game and I think that selection will help to combat that, as well as offer them a fair bit when they have the ball too.

Saracens’ bench could make the difference as well. They just look to have slightly more strength in depth in their squad for this one and the extra experience they have to bring on later in the game especially could prove pivotal.

I think Jerome Garces is going to have a massive impact on the game and whoever reacts best to the way he’s refereeing, especially at the breakdown and the set piece, stands the best chance of winning the game.

Saracens’ Owen Farrell grapples with Leinster’s Johnny Sexton during the 2018 quarter-final in Dublin (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

There are mouth-watering match-ups all over the field but the one between Farrell and Johnny Sexton is the biggest of them all and I think whoever can keep their composure best in the cauldron of St James’ Park and a Champions Cup final will come out on top.

They’ve both got moments of brilliance in them but they’ve both got a tipping point as well.

I watched an interview Farrell did with Nick Mullins this week and he seemed to be praising Sexton through gritted teeth. There’s obviously huge respect there but praising his opposite number didn’t seem to come naturally to him.

Leinster’s attack is all built around multiple phases and they’ll have some short-side plays that they’ll attack Saracens with, as well as a few different shapes and tricks in their locker to test a defence that has been dominant throughout the tournament so far.

The kicking game will clearly play a big part as well, with both teams box kicking a lot. Saracens were so dominant in the air in their semi-final against Munster and I don’t think that’ll be the case against Leinster.

The back threes will have a lot of work to do and are quite evenly matched but I think James Lowe is one of the best players in the world at the moment and might just have a moment of magic up his sleeve to change the game.

Whoever wins, it should be an absolute cracker for the neutral. There might not be tries galore and linebreaks being made left, right and centre but the physicality will be incredible, it’ll be a gainline war and that should keep us all entertained.

It’s going to be a hell of a ding-dong but I’m just favouring Saracens because I think their power game might just edge it. The sheer size and power of some of their ball carriers in the forwards if they come wave after wave might just make the difference.

It’s going to be an intriguing battle between the two best sides in Europe by a distance and there’s virtually nothing to choose between them but I’m going for Saracens after they’ve gone toe to toe for 80 minutes, and an extra 20 as well just for good measure.

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Saracens to edge epic final - Andy Goode
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