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On the only other occasion that Leinster qualified as the number 1 ranked club from the Pool stage, they went on to lift the Heineken Cup trophy, defeating Racing 92 in the final in Bilbao. In fact, this was just two seasons ago in 2017/18. Furthermore, they beat Saracens 30-19 in the Aviva Stadium at the quarter-final stage that year. A fixture that is repeated this weekend.
Leinster go into this game fresh from their Pro14 Final win over Ulster, who also feature in the quarter-finals. Last weekend, they won 27-5 against their northern rivals in the Aviva. Cullen had such faith in his team that he rested key players for this one.
For example, the trustworthy Ross Byrne stepped in at out-half. Johnny Sexton was saved for this weekend and only played the final twenty minutes against Ulster. Likewise, Jamison Gibson-Park replaced Luke McGrath at scrum-half. McGrath also played the last quarter but was saved for the Saracens fixture.
In addition, Leo Cullen’s squad depth was boosted by the return of James Ryan. In his first game back from injury, Ryan managed sixty-two minutes. His presence will be major in the coming cup run. Dan Leavy and Tadgh Furlong will also be available for selection.
Leo Cullen has given an update on the squad today ahead of Saturday's #ChampionsCup quarter-final against Saracens. 🔵🏉
Read more: https://t.co/nuFYVuAYjm👈#LeinsterRugby pic.twitter.com/7lqUFEhuB1
— Leinster Rugby (@leinsterrugby) September 14, 2020
Earlier in the season, the Premiership sentenced Saracens to relegation for breaching the salary cap. This makes the Heineken Cup the last chance of a successful season for last year’s double-winners.
However, Saracens suffered a major loss recently against the Wasps. The referee showed Owen Farrell a straight red card for a high tackle of Charlie Atkinson. As a result, the England captain is serving a five-game ban.
Saracens won the final last year against Leinster by 20 points to 10. In spite of this, this year’s fixture looks much tougher, especially with the loss of their talisman.
On the other hand, Leinster will recall McGrath and Sexton to get even stronger. Meanwhile, competition among the pack makes for a guaranteed strong selection.
Leinster have won their last four quarter-finals in a row and will aim to continue this streak on Saturday. Getting revenge for last year’s final would make it all the more sweeter.
Heineken Cup Quarter-Final: Leinster vs Saracens (Aviva Stadium), Saturday 19th September 15:00 (BT Sport 3).