Sky Live Champions Cup preview: Leinster v Racing 92
By Robert Mulhern
Last Updated: 11/05/18 2:10pm
Leinster are red hot favourites to lift their fourth title and equal the record set by Toulouse, but Racing's Top 14 form and their semi-final victory over Munster suggests they're capable of an upset.
Leinster have long since shed the preferred underdog status that has so often accompanied Irish teams in the past.
Europe's trailblazers this season are 10 points favourites with the bookies going into this contest against Racing, and most critics are predicting that when the sun sets in Bilbao on Saturday night, the trove of four trophies returned by Toulouse will have been equalled.
Racing, long considered a team of stars, are missing their star man Maxime Machenaud and the loss of their scrum-half is a huge blow to their chances.
All season, Leinster have set the pace in Europe. The fact that they beat Glasgow, Montpellier and Exeter in the Pool stages and all three of those clubs now top of their respective leagues is ominous for their opponents.
But when you add the quarter-final win over holders Saracens and then tag on the 38-16 victory over Scarlets in the semis, it's obvious that the quality of this Leinster side has been underscored again and again in 2017/18.
In team news, Fergus McFadden is unavailable because of injury and Jordi Murphy is expected to hold his position in the back-row at the expense of Jack Conan. Scott Fardy will again start on the blindside, allowing Devin Toner and James Ryan to pack down in the second-row.
Racing are currently head the pile in the French Top 14 and this is their second final in two years having fallen to Saracens in 2016.
Crucially, they have the lowest try concession rate in the league and the since-departed Ronan O'Gara is credited with helping to tighten a defensive structure that will be tested.
Racing scraped through the Pool stages losing to Munster and Castres before qualifying as one of the best runners-up. They then beat Clermont Auvergne in the quarter-finals before knocking out Munster 27-22 in the semi-finals.
The big selection headache revolves around who to start at fly-half, Dan Carter or Pat Lambie and whether Racing can string together longer spells of momentum than achieved this far this season.
Critically, Racing are without their talisman Macheneaud who ruptured knee ligaments and is replaced by Teddy Iribaren.
Last meeting - 2011 Heineken Cup Pool 2 (Racing Metro 11-36 Leinster)
Leinster secured a home quarter-final tie with a 36-11 victory over the then named Racing Metro in their Pool 2 clash at the Stade Yves du Manoir.
Two tries from fly-half Johnny Sexton and scores from full-back Isa Nacewa, No.8 Sean O'Brien and centre Brian O'Driscoll saw the Irish province extend their unbeaten run in Europe and hand Racing a rare home defeat.
A try from centre Virimi Vakatawa put the hosts in control in the first-half but they were soon blown away by a high-octane Leinster with man of the match O' Brien taking a starring role in defence and attack.
Leinster - Sean Cronin
One of the more interesting stats to be revealed ahead of this final is that Leinster haven't lost a lineout in their last four European outings. But in Racing, Leinster face one of the world's best defensive units at this platform.
The French side demonstrated their prowess at this play when rocking Munster in their semi-final victory. For the favourites, hooker, Sean Cronin has been imperious, but Racing will feel that if they can disrupt the Leinster throw they'll also disrupt the Blues winning rhythm.
Racing 92 - Pat Lambie
Racing 92 have stuck with Pat Lambie to start at No 10 with the option of calling on Dan Carter from the bench. He has been excellent for Racing and will need to produce another top-drawer performance on Saturday.
Lambie will look to control the tempo of the game and not let Sexton have it all his own way. His forwards will be key to how he plays, and if they have to live of scraps, then his decision making will be crucial for them to make those moments count. With Maxime Machenaud ruled out, Lambies goal kicking will also have to be spot on.
Pre match thoughts
Leinster - Dan Leavy
"Racing are a great team and are packed full of big names. The strength in depth is incredible and they have the best defence in the Top 14.
"[Maxime] Machenaud will be a loss for them but they will have someone that is well up to the challenge with the strength in depth they have. If we are going to beat them, we will need to find that extra gear against them."
Racing - Joe Rokocoko
"Leinster have a lot more options - running options and they can change the game. They've got a lot of experienced international players in their group. For us, it's going to be tough."
"The hard thing is that despite doing your video analysis, they come up with different moves from the back pocket. They are such an intelligent team and they have great forwards."
Isa Nacewa will lead Leinster in his final European game as they are boosted by the return from injury of Luke McGrath at scrum-half.
Racing have stuck with Pat Lambie at fly-half with Dan Carter on the bench, while Teddy Iribaren comes in for the injured Maxime Machenaud at scrum-half.
Leinster: 15 Rob Kearney; 14 Jordan Larmour, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Isa Nacewa; 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Luke McGrath; 1 Cian Healy, 2 Sean Cronin, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 4 Devin Toner, 5 James Ryan, 6 Scott Fardy, 7 Dan Leavy, 8 Jordi Murphy .
Replacements:16 James Tracy, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Rhys Ruddock, 20 Jack Conan, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Joey Carbery, 23 Rory O'Loughlin
Racing 92: 15 Louis Dupichot; 14 Teddy Thomas, 13 Virimi Vakatawa, 12 Henry Chavancy, 11 Marc Andreu; 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Teddy Iribaren; 1 Eddy Ben Arous, 2 Camille Chat, 3 Cedate Gomes Sa, 4 Donnacha Ryan, 5 Leone Nakarawa, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 7 Bernard Le Roux, 8 Yannick Nyanga.
Replacements: 16 Ole Avei, 17 Vasil Kakovin, 18 Census Johnston, 19 Boris Palu, 20 Baptiste Chouzenoux, 21 Antoine Gibert, 22 Dan Carter, 23 Joe Rokocoko