Saracens beat Leinster to win a record third European crown

Mick Cleary
Captain Brad Barritt raises the Champions Cup trophy following his side's win over Leinster - PA

  • Leinster 10 Saracens 20

Saracens played true to the tradition of English clubs dominating the European landscape, emulating their footballing cousins in producing a performance of real note in beating Leinster, to claim their third Champions’ Cup crown in four years. The win makes them the most successful English side ever in Europe, busting open the door to that Pantheon with a display of zeal and power. There are those who question the integrity of Saracens’ dealings in the transfer market but no-one can doubt their iron will, their defensive steadfastness, their tight-knit esprit de corps, their skill as well as their savvy and the sense of a genuine brotherhood pulling together to make it happen.

This was a performance of rich character, of a club that has deep foundations and proper on-field values.  Saracens had to overcame a ten point Leinster lead, survived losing two props to injury in the first half at the same time as Maro Itoje was sin-binned. In the fitting theme of the week, it was a comeback of epic proportions with Billy Vunipola scoring the decisive try from a scrum in the 67thminute.   

It was a show of defiance from Saracens, a sign that they would never throw in the towel, that Leinster would have to deliver a knockout punch or they would keep rising from the canvas, keep punching, keep staying in the fight. Capitulation does not feature in their lexicon. At its heart was yet another towering performance from Vunipola, all legitimate rage and fury, refusing to yield and carrying his teammates towards victory.

Saracens pride themselves on being made of the right stuff, of believing that heart and soul count for as much as muscle and bone. So it proved.

Leinster played their part in a taut final but were overwhelmed by the relentlessness of Saracens’ power-game. The squeeze exerted by both defences, that suffocating envelopment, induced mistakes in both teams, Leinster’s Garry Ringrose dropping a ball followed by Alex Goode spilling possession in the tackle. Tight, tense, half-gaps suddenly slammed shut, it was muscular chess with the need to think several moves ahead. Saracens put together the more threatening sequences only for their thought processes to get scrambled as they closed in for check-mate, their captain, Brad Barritt, ceding an unnecessary penalty with his team only a metre from the Leinster line.

Billy Vunipola's mammoth second-half score was crucial in Saracens' victory Credit: getty images europe

In a contest of sparse openings, every advantage needed to be taken. Saracens botched their moment of opportunity, Leinster maximised theirs in the 32nd minute. Full-back, Rob Kearney did the initial damage with a slicing, stepping run. Saracens scrambled and, in their panic, infringed. Twice. Maro Itoje was the culprit on both occasions and was sent to the sin-bin. If only that had been the sum of their woes. At the same time as Itoje trudged to the sideline so too did both props, Mako Vunipola (hamstring) and Titi Lamositele (ankle). It was crisis time.

Leinster took full advantage, scrumming hard against seven for Tadhg Furlong to burrow through for the try, Sexton converting.  Leinster were well aware that they had to provide thunder at the breakdown if they were to stem Saracens’ charge, match the big, burly black-shirted ball-carriers that would be coming their way in the shape of Billy Vunipola or former Wallaby lock, Will Skelton, now slimmed down to as mere 119kg but still a terrifying sight on the go-forward that would have kids clutching at their mothers’ skirts. The slimmed-down Skelton was conspicuous in the open, slamming into tackles and winning turnovers.  

Owen Farrell knocked over a penalty goal for not releasing, Itoje skipped back from the doghouse, Farrell kicked long for touch from a penalty, Jackson Wray rose to take the ball, Barritt led the charge, Jamie George was only just stopped but the force was with the men in black, Farrell flicking the ball on to Sean Maitland to touch down in first half added time, Farrell converting from the touchline to send the teams down the tunnel, level at 10-10.

This was a test of their famed morale, a test of their equanimity as well for they were getting no favours from French referee, Jerome Garces, once again ridiculously laissez-faire at the breakdown. It was the wild west with studs on. The trend continued with two penalties against them in the opening minute of the second half.

It was a time for the leaders to come to the fore, for those who relished the fierceness of the battle and would not wilt. Liam Williams showed his mettle when somehow stemming and turning over a Leinster attack. It was Williams’ take of a high ball ahead of Rob Kearney that launched Saracens again in the 55th minute, Jackson Wray busting upfield, forcing Leinster to do a Saracens, with flanker, Scott Fardy yellow carded for interference, Farrell kicking the goal to put his team ahead for the first time.

Saracens grew in stature, Leinster were under the cosh, unable to cope with the heft as well as the ramped-up desire of their opponents. The backs joined in and wrapped around a lineout and drove and drove deep into Leinster territory, a red-shorted wedge of intent. The mood had shifted. And the inevitable score came. Leinster were fortunate not to conceded a penalty try from a dominant Sarries scrum but no matter, from the re-rest Billy Vunipola, powered forward through four Leinster would-be tackler and stretched his giant right mitt over the line. Farrell converted and Saracens had a ten point cushion with 13 minutes remaining.

That was to prove the clincher.  And all played out to a raucous St James’ backdrop, a fitting end to a weekend of great fun  and proof that rugby has a presence as well as a soul in the far north-east. They will have enjoyed what they witnessed, a Saracens’ master-class.

7:21PM

Saracens lift the trophy

Captain Brad Barritt raises the Champions Cup trophy following his side's win over Leinster Credit: PA

 

7:12PM

Official man of the match - Brad Barritt

Barritt, according to ESPN, made 28 tackles and missed zero. Wow. He was heroic, but so were so many others. Vunipola, Kruis, and Lozowski up there, too, but in honesty no Saracen had a poor match.

7:06PM

Owen Farrell interview

I'm massively pleased. I thought we had a decent start to the game but there was just something holding us back. We made a few mistakes and gave a few penalties away, but we let loose after that. Coming here, being in a big occasion, a big final in Europe, and not holding back, that's what I was after.

In the big games like these, every face of your game has to be up there to put pressure on. We made too many errors in the first half to put pressure on, but we came out flying in the second half and managed to get a few tries off the back of it.

We are getting better and better. 

Owen Farrell says Saracens are getting "better and better" following their third Champions Cup win Credit: Channel 4

6:59PM

Saracens are European champions once again

The scoreline flatters Saracens slightly, but no one would argue that they deserved their win. It's even more impressive, however, that they managed it after going 10-0 down to a side with such calibre. A word, too, for the two replacement props, Barrington and Koch, who had to play much longer than usual as both starting props were injured concurrently early on.

For Saracens, Lozowski probably had his best ever game, but the finish that Vunipola produced for his match-defining try was one that few others in the world have ever been able to do. With the strengths of today's defences, how often do you see No 8s scoring from the back of scrums?

6:54PM

Full time: Leinster 10-20 Saracens

Saracens become the first English team to win three European titles. Fitting, too, that Burger, who is leaving at the end of the season, comes up with the final turnover. Koch boots the ball out, after a great shift, and the Saracens bench mob the field.

6:53PM

80 min: Leinster 10-20 Saracens

Leinster continue even though the game is gone. The celebrations started prematurely as Williams was penalised for a deliberate knock-on into touch, but everyone thought that was that. We go on...

6:52PM

79 min: Leinster 10-20 Saracens

They are still trying, valiantly, to find that one opening to exploit, but it simply does not exist. Conan carries but goes backwards, Lowe tries to muster something from nothing - losing his shorts in the process - but a lovely cut-out pass finds Henshaw and Leinster do make ground. But then a massive Kruis hit stops them dead and it's now beyond Leinster.

6:50PM

77 min: Leinster 10-20 Saracens

Leinster are giving this a go but they are running out of time. As we approach the 76th minute, they are still in their own 22. In fact, it gets worse, as they are turned over. Saracens know another score of any kind will do it as they continue to attack. Williams finds some space, Barrington trundles, but a huge Leinster counter-ruck results in a turnover and off they go again from their own posts.

6:47PM

74 min: Leinster 10-20 Saracens

Following his England disappointment, Alex Lozowski has been absolutely marvellous. Saracens attack with dynamism through Lozowski and Barritt up to Leinster's five-metre line. George carries strongly again, in fact I think his tackler Ringrose took a knock, but then a pass just falls short of Maitland's grasp as Leinster escape. "Escape", with a scrum on their own five-metre line when they need two scores in five minutes.

6:44PM

72 min: Leinster 10-20 Saracens

Barritt throws himself at the Leinster defence from first phase but Saracens are sloppy in attack and Leinster win the ball back. They take a high-tackle penalty quickly and get straight on the attack from their own 22, they make the halfway but then Vunipola intercepts again and you feel it might now be getting away from the Dubliners.

6:42PM

69 min: Leinster 10-20 Saracens

Leinster have just changed both of their props for an upcoming Saracens scrum, but it does them no favours as the leaders win a penalty. Farrell kicks towards the Leinster 22 and a score here would put it beyond doubt with ten minutes to go.

6:40PM

68 min CONVERSION FARRELL: Leinster 10-20 Saracens

The conversion was simple for Farrell and now Saracens have a handsome cushion.

Billy Vunipola's mammoth try was a defining moment in the match Credit: PA

6:39PM

66 min TRY VUNIPOLA: Leinster 10-18 Saracens

It is simply mammoth from Billy Vunipola. He has been largely neutralised in this match but he has suddenly put Saracens completely in the driving seat. He breaks from the back of the scrum and carries four over the line with him. He stretches to touch down, and it would be very impressive if Leinster came back from this.

6:37PM

65 min: Leinster 10-13 Saracens

That is a massive call from Garcès. Saracens have just marched Leinster back over their own line, there is a penalty offence, and there is no penalty try. I'm not sure he's got that one right but we scrum again.

6:35PM

64 min: Leinster 10-13 Saracens

It is a monstrous maul by Saracens from the ensuing lineout, but their momentum plateaus slightly as, once again, Leinster defend admirably. Itoje thrusts, Maitland cuts a delightful line, and Wigglesworth unlocks Lozowski who makes great ground with a sudden burst. Saracens get to within five metres of the Leinster line before a breakdown mess results in a Saracens scrum five metres out. They were going forward, there was no maul, and the ball was unplayable.

6:33PM

61 min: Leinster 10-13 Saracens

Leinster are a little bit lateral; they are struggling to pierce the gainline here. But, they are composed and they are organised. But Vunipola intercepts a loose Sexton pass as Wigglesworth clears down field. Larmour can do nothing but clear to touch. A great gain for Saracens and maybe a momentum shifter.

6:31PM

59 min: Leinster 10-13 Saracens

Wigglesworth puts up another accurate bomb from the restart. Kearney rises and is taken out by Itoje. The TMO comes in and Saracens fear the worst, and the Leinster fans want the worst. Common sense prevails, however, and it is only a penalty, a penalty that Sexton pushes into the corner.

6:28PM

58 min PENALTY FARRELL: Leinster 10-13 Saracens

And it was. Saracens take the lead for the first time in the match and Leinster have to play the next 10 minutes with a man in the bin. 

6:27PM

57 min NO TRY and YELLOW CARD FARDY: Leinster 10-10 Saracens

Garcès and his TMO decide that the grounding is not clear but, just as with the first half, there will be a sin-bin for a penalty in the build-up. It's Fardy this time, and you cannot knock Garcès for lack of consistency. Saracens have chosen the kick at goal, which should be elementary.

6:25PM

57 min TMO REVIEW: Leinster 10-10 Saracens

The Saracens defence is marauding; I cannot remember the last time that Leinster were forced to box-kick so often. Goode reclaims another one and Wray suddenly bursts through! Saracens mount another attack with Koch and Vunipola on the charge. Itoje thumps into the post but cannot touch down. And now we have a TMO review with Barrington the man in control...

6:22PM

54 min: Leinster 10-10 Saracens

This match, unsurprisingly, has a very "one mistake could decide it" vibe about it. Saracens' scrum is solid just inside their own half and they immediately attack to the openside, kicking through awkwardly to Larmour who, once again, deals with it calmly. Leinster clear through McGrath but he does not find touch and back come Saracens. More thunderous carries, more vicious hits. Fardy sniffs an interception on the Leinster 22 there was a knock on. Leinster have a scrum on their own 22 as Wigglesworth comes on for Spencer.

6:17PM

50 min: Leinster 10-10 Saracens

Leinster could not win their own lineout and now Saracens have one of their own. Vunipola bursts through from first phase and Saracens are already up to the Leinster 22. Itoje and Skelton carry in tandem (gulp!) as Saracens continue to progress. But Fardy and Healy have a tandem act of their own sorted out. They jackal together, Garcès correctly rules that Saracens were holding on, and Sexton clears to touch. James Tracy has come on for Cronin, but his first task is to throw a skew-wiff lineout.

6:13PM

48 min: Leinster 10-10 Saracens

Danger for Saracens here after some lovely Sexton/Lowe interplay. A strong Farrell tackle has halted the momentum momentarily but Saracens are defending on their own line once again. Williams, of all people, has come up with a turnover out of nowhere and Farrell clears for Saracens. Leinster will be coming straight back, however.

6:11PM

44 min: Leinster 10-10 Saracens

Leinster thrust up in midfield following a lineout maul, but Kruis is the hero for Saracens as he strips the ball. Spencer clears with a box kick which is taken with aplomb by Lowe. Then Leinster attempt to counter but the Saracens defence is sound, once again. Suddenly Dublin hearts were in mouths as Williams races up the pitch after intercepting a Sexton pass. But Garcès correctly spots an earlier knock-on and we go back for a Leinster scrum just inside Saracens territory.

6:08PM

42 min: Leinster 10-10 Saracens

From the resulting lineout, Barrington's attempted sack fails and he concedes a penalty. Now Saracens, from Sexton's searching kick, are defending a lineout 10 metres from their line.

6:06PM

41 min: Leinster 10-10 Saracens

We are back underway here and Vunipola gives away a needless, reckless penalty immediately from the restart and Leinster clear.

5:58PM

Half time: Leinster 10-10 Saracens

Still no word as to those two Saracens front-row substitutions, by the way, so I assume that both Vunipola and Lamositele are staying off. It's worth pointing out at this point just how aggressive both defences have been. There have been very few obvious missed tackles: either it has been a crashing hit or an attacker has found some space. It has been intense.

5:53PM

Half time: Leinster 10-10 Saracens

Why oh why did McGrath box kick that ball when time was up? How costly might that be? It must be said that Saracens' control was wondrous in the build-up to that score and the final Farrell flourish - a blink-and-you-miss pass across his body to Maitland - was predictably well-executed. I'd say it's just about advantage Saracens now, because at 41 mins on the clock they were losing 10-3. 

5:50PM

43 min CONVERSION FARRELL: Leinster 10-10 Saracens

Farrell adds the extras and that was a serious smash-and-grab from Saracens.

5:49PM

42 min TRY MAITLAND: Leinster 10-8 Saracens

Barritt and Barrington run into the wall and they do dislodge some bricks; Saracens end up beneath the Leinster posts. Skelton, George, Itoje are all involved in short, tight carries before Spencer finds Farrell, who immediately ships to Maitland, who goes over unmarked in the corner.

Sean Maitland touches down to level the scores at 10-10 Credit: PA

 

5:47PM

40 min: Leinster 10-3 Saracens

Time is up for the first half but McGrath puts a bit of a nothing box kick in. Leinster infringe at the following ruck and Farrell gives Saracens a lineout inside Leinster's 22 well into first-half overtime.

5:46PM

39 min PENALTY FARRELL: Leinster 10-3 Saracens

Farrell makes no mistake, Itoje returns to the field and now it feels like we have a contest again. Saracens have played very well for the past five minutes, just as it looked like it could get away from them.

5:44PM

37 min: Leinster 10-0 Saracens

That could be a massive turning point in the match. Leinster try to play off the top but Lozoski and Kruis both put in massive shots, knocking Leinster carriers behind the gain line. Koch gets straight over the ball and now Farrell has a chance to get Saracens on the scoreboard with a penalty straight in front, around 30 metres out.

5:43PM

35 min: Leinster 10-0 Saracens

Saracens still look decent with the ball and attacked well following McGrath's clearing box kick. But maybe the lack of an extra forward does for them. Koch carries well into Leinster's 22 but Fardy is like a limpet over the ball and Garcès is completely right to award him with penalty. Sexton clears and Saracens, despite their ferocity in attack, are lacking a bit of inaccuracy in Leinster's 22.

5:40PM

33 min: CONVERSION SEXTON Leinster 10-0 Saracens

Sexton converts and Saracens are really up against it now. They cannot afford to concede again with Itoje off the field and, if anything, really need to get off the mark.

Leinster celebrate Tadgh Furlong's opening try Credit: action images

 

5:39PM

32 min: TRY FURLONG Leinster 8-0 Saracens

Conan picks dynamically off the base but is well tackled by Farrell. The quick pick-and-go from Leinster was too wily, though, and Furlong goes over.

5:37PM

30 min:  Leinster 3-0 Saracens

Leinster have elected to scrum and turned down the easiest of three points. It might be a good call, however, as both of Saracens' props have just left the field. Barrington and Koch are on and they are straight to the coal face, with the Saracens pack down to seven. I have no idea if those subs are permanent as of yet.

5:34PM

29 min: NO TRY and YELLOW CARD ITOJE Leinster 3-0 Saracens

There is no clear grounding and Garcès says he was playing three penalty advantages in the build-up to that TMO review, all against Itoje. so he goes for 10 minutes in the cooler.

5:33PM

29 min: TMO REVIEW Leinster 3-0 Saracens

Garcès wants to have a look here. Bodies everywhere from a very short pick-and-go. Kruis looks to have held this up but good luck to the TMO...

5:32PM

28 min: Leinster 3-0 Saracens

Kearney bursts through and is dragged down five metres short. The noise is deafening. Furlong crashed into the Saracens defence. Sexton sends a long pass to Lowe who can't quite get over the line. Fardy and O'Brien carry hard, so too Conan, but Saracens' defence has been impressive thus far...

5:30PM

26 min: Leinster 3-0 Saracens

Leinster clear from the resulting scrum and Lowe puts great pressure on Goode and Williams, even recovering the ball. Leinster are struggling a bit for momentum with ball in hand, however, and result to a boxkick in midfield which Saracens mop up. But Farrell's clearance is poor and Leinster are back on the counter through Lowe. You cannot kick poorly to either of these outside backs.

5:26PM

23 min: Leinster 3-0 Saracens

Leinster attack with venom through Cronin and Lowe but they lose momentum slightly after a big hit from Skelton. Furlong's power briefly gets them going again but Saracens regroup and their defence is fierce and organised, to the point where they effect a turnover and head straight on the attack. George hits a shrewd line, Lozoswki is involved again, but a one-two inside pass between Spencer and Maitland was not a good call. It was a blind alley and Maitland knocks on.

5:22PM

19 min: Leinster 3-0 Saracens

Saracens have blown it. They got to within five metres and Brad Barritt has been pinged for a leading shoulder at the ruck. It was spotted by touch judge Romain Poite. My French is a little rusty but it was ruled as "not malicious". Leinster clear to halfway.

5:20PM

18 min: Leinster 3-0 Saracens

Scott Fardy knocks on in the resulting lineout and now Saracens have a very dangerous scrum.

5:19PM

17 min: Leinster 3-0 Saracens

Saracens had a penalty advantage from that scrum but they do not need it, they have advanced 40 metres up field ball in hand. Lozowski has been heavily involved again, with a deft touch from Mako Vunipola setting him away. But a stray offload from Owen Farrell puts an end to the attack and Leinster clear. Regardless, Saracens will have a lineout deep inside the Leinster half after a ruthlessly penetrative attack.

5:16PM

15 min: Leinster 3-0 Saracens

Saracens clear but the box kick is immaculately taken by Larmour, who has had some start. Leinster look a little bit lost momentarily and George takes advantage with a massive hit on McGrath, who subsequently skews a box kick which is knocked on as Leinster try to regather. That can't be far off the first unforced error of the day. Saracens have a scrum on their own ten-metre line.

5:13PM

12 min: Leinster 3-0 Saracens

Goodness me Saracens can't afford to be sloppy with Larmour in space. They attack blind through Goode but a great tackle from McGrath dislodges the ball and sets Larmour off. He kicks ahead but Ringrose knocks on as he tries to regather the ball. I think Saracens just had it covered, though. Just.

Jordan Larmour has been dangerous for Leinster Credit: action images

 

5:11PM

9 min: Leinster 3-0 Saracens

McGrath box kicks a clearance and Saracens are back at it again in attack and Lozowski is looking dangerous. But Farrell knocks on and Leinster race up the field through Rob Kearney. Lozowski covers Kearney's kick but is smothered by several Leinster chasers. Henshaw turns him over but the ball gets knocked on and Saracens have a scrum just inside the Leinster half. The early signs are that Leinster are slightly hungrier, here.

5:09PM

7 min: Leinster 3-0 Saracens

This is honestly delightful to watch. Saracens hit Barritt off the top and their accuracy is marvellous. They manage to unlock Williams down the right on more than one occasion and he looks so dangerous, so comfortable. There are massive hits in defence, too, but Saracens' composure is impressive. It comes to nothing, though, and Leinster have a scrum on their own five-metre line.

5:06PM

5 min: Leinster 3-0 Saracens

Larmour might well have wanted to keep the ball in hand there, as Leinster were looking very dangerous, etching towards the Saracens 22. Saracens scramble and earn a penalty to clear their lines. The pre-match chatter was about Saracens' physicality, but the early signs are showing that Leinster are more than up to the challenge. 

5:05PM

3 min: PENALTY SEXTON Leinster 3-0 Saracens

Sexton makes no mistake and it is first blood to the Irish. A ruthless start.

5:03PM

2 min: Leinster 0-0 Saracens

An early defensive error from Saracens as they are caught out by, of all things, a Devin Toner dummy. The big man dummies off the top of the lineout and the whole Saracens pack bite. Sexton now has a chance of 3 points in the middle of the field, about 35 metres out.

5:02PM

1 min: Leinster 0-0 Saracens

It's a precise, ferocious start. Lozowski cleans up the restart and Saracens clear through Ben Spencer. Sexton returns their clearance and Alex Goode calls the mark. We can all breathe as Goode clears for a Leinster lineout.

4:59PM

Here we go...

The teams march onto the pitch to roars and flames. The atmosphere looks electric as St James' Park is now bathed in sunshine. And it is Leinster's Johnny Sexton who will get us underway.

4:53PM

Controversy before kick off

Expect more of this during the match; Vunipola's name has just been roundly booed once again while the teams were announced in the stadium.

4:49PM

Route to the final

Both teams have enjoyed a near-immaculate journey through the rounds to St James' Park today. They have only lost one match between them - Leinster away in Toulouse during the pool stage - and both topped their pools.

Saracens hosted Glasgow Warriors in the quarter finals, and a high-scoring contest resulted in an immensely comfortable victory for Mark McCall's men. And Leinster narrowly beat a brave Ulster side that pushed them all the way at the Aviva Stadium.

Saracens then hosted Munster in the semi finals and, after a tight first half in which the visitors defended heroically, the English side ran away with it in the second 40 minutes. Leinster cruised to victory against a Toulouse side that could not produce their best rugby when it mattered.

We are just over ten minutes away, the sun is out, and the rain has cleared.

4:35PM

Match stats

Some pre-match stats to whet the appetite courtesy of EPCR, with 25 minutes until kick off:

  • Leinster are aiming for a record-breaking fifth European Cup success, while Saracens will be looking to clinch a third European crown – more than any other Gallagher Premiership club. 
  • Should Saracens lift the Heineken Champions Cup, it will be the ninth time an English team has lifted the European Cup. However, if Leinster are victorious, it would represent an eighth Irish victory in the tournament – level with England and France. 
  • Leinster have won 16 of their last 17 tournament matches since the beginning of the 2017/18 campaign. The sole defeat came against Toulouse in Round 2 of this season’s pool stages. 
  • Both finalists have notched 32 tries from their eight Heineken Champions Cup matches this season. 
  • Saracens have recorded the highest lineout success this season, winning 95% of their throws. 
  • Leinster back Jordan Larmour and Saracens full-back Alex Goode are two of just four players to play all 640 minutes of this season’s Heineken Champions Cup.
  • Owen Farrell has scored the most points in this season's Champions Cup thus far, with 79.

4:24PM

The last time they met

These two sides have met only three times in Champions Cup history, with Leinster winning on all three occasions. The last time they met, at the quarter-final stage of last year's competition, the Dubliners ran out as 30-19 winners at the Aviva Stadium. You can catch a recap here, which might be a good idea, as 33 of today's 46 players were involved.

17 of today's 46 players were also involved in England's pulsating victory over Ireland in Dublin during the Six Nations, while many of them featured heavily in the British & Irish Lions 2017 tour to New Zealand. It's fair to say, then, that the two sides know each other fairly well.

Another man they should know well is today's referee, Jérôme Garcès. The Frenchman refereed the Six Nations encounter in February; he refereed the Lions' second Test against New Zealand; he refereed Saracens' semi-final victory against Munster at the Richo Arena in April; and he was the man with the whistle when the sides last met, in 2018.

It's still safe to predict that no one will be any the wiser with breakdown adjudications, however. 

Today's referee Jérôme Garcès is well-known to both of these teams Credit: Getty images

4:04PM

Saracens team news

The biggest blow to Saracens comes with the news that tenacious workhorse Michael Rhodes has missed out through injury. Still, Will Skelton is not a bad replacement, is he? Maro Itoje moves to blindside to accommodate the arrival of the giant Aussie, while Alex Losowski is preferred to Nick Tompkins at outside centre. Incidentally, Saracens will be wearing their red away strip.

3:53PM

Leinster team news

Let's start with the defending champions. Leinster head coach Leo Cullen has named an unchanged side from their semi-final victory over Toulouse. Johnny Sexton captains from fly-half while the tournament's joint leading try-scorer, Sean Cronin, starts at hooker.

3:33PM

Are you ready?

Good afternoon all, and welcome to our live-text coverage of the Heineken Champions Cup final between Leinster and Saracens at St James' Park, Newcastle.

If you had asked most pundits to predict their finalists at the start of the season, anyone with even the smallest degree of common sense would have chosen the two that will take to the field in Newcastle at 5pm. Toulouse, Racing 92, Munster: they, among others, have all shown glimpses of championship-winning form, but none has been able to combine that lethal triumvirate of fight, precision and consistency like today's finalists. So often in knockout competitions the "true" final takes place before the official one; the draw is unkind to the neutral. Not today, today we are privileged with a true final.

The Met Office thinks that the early drizzle in the Toon should clear up before kick off, but the lingering moisture will make things greasy. The spotlight will therefore be firmly on the loaded battle between Jonathan Sexton and Owen Farrell at fly half. Many believe - myself included - that whichever number ten gets the upper hand will be on the winning side. But, in this week of the most seismic of sporting theatre, any prediction is a brave one. Lest we forget last year's final, where Teddy Iribaren - Racing 92's third-choice goalkicker and second-choice scrum half - came within a whisker of kicking the Parisians to an unlikely victory against today's Irish finalists.

In case you missed it, last night's Challenge Cup final - also at St James' Park - was a perfect curtain raiser to today's finale. The ferocious flamboyance of Clermont Auvergne triumphed over their domestic rivals La Rochelle, with Scotland's Greig Laidlaw kicking 18 points for les jaunards.

A prediction? I couldn't possibly. Oh, go on then. With two such exemplary sides, Leinster's away loss to Toulouse is the only minor differential. Do they have the most minuscule touches of fallibility? Perhaps. So, Saracens, just...