Irish steel will meet French flair in the final of the European Champions Cup this weekend when Leinster do battle with Racing 92. The two teams will clash in Bilbao to determine who is the best side in Europe.
The match has a historic element to it as it is the first final to be held in Spain, outside of the traditional rugby heartlands. Racing 92 are out win the European Champions Cup for the first time in their history, while Ireland’s Leinster are gunning for their record fourth title.
Leinster had a perfect route to the final, not losing a single game. They accounted for Montpellier, Glasgow Warriors and the Exeter Chiefs both home and away in Pool 3, before impressively downing Saracens in the quarter-finals. They then accounted for Welsh side Scarlets 38-16 in the semi-finals to reach Bilbao.
For Racing 92 it has been a tougher path, with losses to Munster and Castres Olympique in Pool 4. But Laurent Labit’s team bounced back to dispose of fellow Gallic team Clermont Auvergne in the quarter-finals and then exacted some revenge on Munster in the semis, edging them 27-22 to get through.
Domestically Racing 92 have been in fine form in the Top 14, finishing second in the regular season just a point behind Montpellier. They are through the semi-final stage and will face the winner of Toulouse and Castres on May 26.
For Leinster they have dominated Conference B in the Pro14, finishing top with 14 wins from 21 games. They finished on the same amount of points as Scarlets, with 80, but took first through their great points difference. They are set to face their old rivals Munster in the semi-finals on May 19, another match-up that rugby union betting fans will be looking forward to.
Dublin-based Leinster are one of the powerhouses of European and Irish rugby. They have been Pro14 champions four times in the past 17 years as well as collecting three continental gongs. They reached the semi-finals of the Champions Cup last year and their last European title came in 2012 when they overpowered Ulster.
Leinster are a team stacked with talent and stars. They are squad built almost entirely out of Irish stock with only four foreigners – Australian Scott Fardy, Fijian Isa Nacewa, and Kiwi pair James Lowe and Jamison Gibson-Park – on their books. Their key men are Ireland internationals and the players that helped their nation to a stunning victory in the Six Nations earlier this year.
Jonathan Sexton at fly-half, Rob Kearney at fullback, Robbie Henshaw at centre and Luke McGrath at scrum-half present a brilliant backline. But it is up front where Leinster really packs a punch. Their scrum is a real weapon with Tadhg Furlong and Cian Healy in the front row. Locks Devin Toner and Fardy given their second row height and power, while the back-row includes Sean O’Brien, Jack Conan and Rhys Ruddock.
While Leinster is focused on local cattle, Racing 92 are the complete opposite. The outfit from Nanterre boast some of the biggest names in word rugby such as Dan Carter, Pat Lambie, Joe Rokocoko, Johan Goosen and Leone Nakarawa. Of their 42-man squad only 23 are Frenchmen.
Nine different nationalities are represented at Racing 92, making for a very cosmopolitan XV. At number 8 they have a gun forward in Yannick Nyanga. An athletic operator who is electric at the breakdown, he will be a handful for Leinster’s defence.
They also have real strike on the flank with French international Teddy Thomas, a strong ball-runner who has crossed eight times in 10 games for his country, and has five tries for his club this season.
Leinster head in the final as heavy favourites and the market demonstrates as much. Ladbrokes have the Irish team successful at 1/5, with a draw at 33/1 and Racing 92 4/1. William Hill are quite similar with a Leinster victory set at 2/9, the draw 25/1 and Racing 92 to win at 7/2.
The value is in deciding how much Leinster will win by. William Hill have the Irishmen winning by a one to five point margin at 11/2, a six to 10 point margin at 5/1 and a 11 to 15 margin at 11/2. Ladbrokes have Leinster winning by a margin of one to 12 points at 13/8 and evens for a victory of 13 points or more.
Considering Leinster are a high-scoring team who only once managed to score less than 20 points in the competition, expecting them to post a decent-sized score is a good bet. Recently European Champions Cup finals have been decided by margins of nine, 12, six, 17 and one point since 12.
Finals are generally tight and tough affairs, so putting your money on Leinster winning by one to 12 points with one of the top betting sites would be the smartest choice.