Six Nations stars gear up for Champions Cup climax

European Rugby’s showpiece competition comes to a head on Saturday night as Leinster and Racing 92 slug it out to claim the European Rugby Champions Cup.

European Rugby’s showpiece competition comes to a head on Saturday night as Leinster and Racing 92 slug it out to claim the European Rugby Champions Cup.

Two heavyweights enjoying stellar campaigns go head-to-head at the San Mames Stadium in Bilbao, with Spain becoming the sixth country to host a Champions Cup final.

A raft of NatWest 6 Nations stars will be key protagonists in Saturday’s showdown, so will Leinster snatch Europe’s greatest prize for a third time or will Racing reign for the first time in their history.


Jordan Larmour made his international debut for eventual champions Ireland during the 2018 NatWest 6 Nations and the 20-year-old reaches another significant milestone by getting the nod to start against Racing.

Larmour, who earned three caps during Ireland’s Grand Slam campaign, comes in for injured international colleague Fergus McFadden, who picked up a hamstring injury in his side’s semi-final victory over the Scarlets.

Scrum-half Luke McGrath looks to have overcome an ankle injury and takes his place at scrum-half, partnering Jonathan Sexton.

Robbie Henshaw, who has recovered from a dislocated shoulder, partners Garry Ringrose in midfield while another Irishman with Championship experience in Donnacha Ryan also starts – but for Racing.

The 34-year-old is named at lock while Teddy Thomas, who scored three tries in France’s opening two games at the 2018 NatWest 6 Nations, starts on the wing.

Wenceslas Lauret, Cedate Gomes Sa and Virimi Vakatawa, who all featured for France in Rugby’s Greatest Championship, are all also included but Racing will have to do without the tournament’s top points-scorer Maxime Machenaud, who is ruled out with a knee injury.

WHAT THEY SAID Leinster head coach Leo Cullen is in little doubt as to the magnitude of the challenge posed by Top 14 semi-finalists Racing.

He said: “What Racing have built in the last seven, eight or nine years and what they have done in bringing in an expensive bunch of players – we have to do things slightly differently in Leinster, where we produce guys from within, mainly.

“We bring in a couple of key signings from overseas, so it is a clash of styles in how you assemble a squad.

“We are under no illusions. It is a very formidable bunch of players that we will be up against.

“It’s a great challenge that we face as a club moving forward. You see some of the French teams and the resources that they have available, and the calibre of players they have been signing over the last couple of years. It’s a great challenge for us.”

Racing flanker Yannick Nyanga is desperate to see his side atone for their defeat to Saracens in the 2015-16 final.

The 34-year-old said: “In losing, we got closer to winning.

“We accumulated a lot of experience and desire then. It was because of this that we have succeeded in returning to the final two years later.

“Not everyone is given that chance. When you see the level of competition, to reach two finals in three years is good.

“But we are competitive and want to celebrate a win now we’ve got there again. Only victory will satisfy us this time.”


Leinster set out their stall in the pool stages, qualifying for the knockout rounds as the only team to win all six of their matches, Montpellier, Glasgow Warriors and Exeter Chiefs all being conquered home and away.

They then went on to defeat Saracens 30-19 at the Aviva Stadium before recording a 38-16 triumph over Scarlets in the semi-finals in April.

Racing finished as runners-up behind Munster in Pool Four but would gain the upper hand over the Irish side at a later date.

They overcame Clermont 28-17 in the quarter-finals and that teed up a semi-final showdown with Munster at the Stade Chaban-Delmas, Laurent Labit and Laurent Travers’ charges triumphing 27-22.


Leinster and Racing have locked horns twice before in European competition – two clashes in the 2010-11 pool stages.

The Leinstermen reigned supreme both times, Sean O’Brien, Rob Kearney, Richardt Strauss, Jamie Heaslip and McFadden going over in a 38-22 win at the RDS Arena.

Fly-half Sexton then claimed a brace of tries as Leinster defeated Racing 36-11 in France en route to topping Pool Two.