herald

Sunday 19 May 2019

Lowe is key to plan

Ryan convinced Blues have to play their way

Leinster’s flying wing James Lowe
Leinster’s flying wing James Lowe

The key to beating Saracens lies with those who have beaten them and those who have come closest in Europe in the last three years.

This year, the English club is unbeaten through six Pool matches and unmatched in powerfully disposing of PRO14 opposition in Glasgow in the quarter-final and Munster in the semi-final.

At times, they have looked close to unstoppable.

They have shown growth in their game and have found renewed energy and focus for ruling European rugby in the same manner they did to win their two titles in 2016 and 2017.

Three years ago, Saracens completed a nine-match sweep through the competition.

They almost repeated this feat the following year, but for the minor inconvenience of a draw away to Scarlets.

In 2018, Mark McCall's men were troubled by another PRO14 League entity in the Ospreys.

The Welsh club could have, even should have, turned Saracens over in an epic 36-34 defeat at Allianz Park.

Later in that campaign, the Ospreys were again the better team without getting the better of the argument, drawing two points out of the 15-all battle in the Liberty Stadium.

The holes appearing in Saracens' game were exposed by Leinster in last year's 30-19 quarter-final.

The single most salient fact that can be taken from these examples is that you have to play, to take chances to unsettle and, ultimately, unseat Saracens.

The efforts by Scarlets, Ospreys and Leinster were all predicated on getting outside the grip of Sarries' blitz defence.

The perfect example was provided by Leinster's opening try in the 2018 quarter-final.

The transfer of three long, sharp passes through Luke McGrath, Garry Ringrose and Isa Nacewa inside Leinster's half put James Lowe one-on-one with Liam Williams.

When Lowe's fend and power through contact was too much for the Welshman, Nacewa and Ringrose were there in support to take it to the line for seven points with the cleanest of cutting edges.

Since then, Saracens have improved and Leinster believe they have too. The doubts that arose out of the quarter-final against Ulster faded away on the evidence of what the champions did to Toulouse in the semi-final.

"We're going to have to do better than we did last time," said Leinster lock James Ryan.

"How we'll beat them is how we look to beat any side - playing Leinster rugby.

"That's what we love doing," he added.

"We love going after teams with our attack, being unpredictable. That's the template for us."

The Leinster brains trust has taken note of how Scarlets and Ospreys went about deconstructing the Saracens defence.

"We're aware of that, but Leinster rugby is what we're looking to bring to it," said Ryan.

"We love expressing ourselves with ball in hand.

"We've guys who love playing rugby, like James Lowe, so we're looking forward to it.

"We know how good their defence is. It's not going to be easy to carve them open."

Surely, Leo Cullen cannot afford to leave Lowe out of the game plan, the New Zealander careering in for two of Leinster's three tries in last year's quarter-final.

The left wing is crucial to cracking Saracens' code in defence.

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