Friday 15 December 2017

Reborn Blues can keep foot on pedal with raid on London

Heineken Cup Pool 1: Saracens v Leinster, Wembley Stadium, Tomorrow 5.45 (Live SS 1)

It goes without saying Wembley is a special place to play any game. It will take a special performance from Leinster to overturn an increasingly deceptive and powerful Saracens there tomorrow.

Their Director of Rugby, Brendan Venter, is a man to be feared and respected in equal measure for his occasional media rant and the discipline he builds into his players.

"Yeah, his enthusiasm seems to be pretty contagious," conceded Leinster captain Leo Cullen.

"They seem to have a unity of purpose about what they do and this seems to stem from Brendan Venter. He has done a remarkable job in 18 months from where they were at to where they are now."

Then again, the deep pockets of their South African owners have facilitated the import of many serious players, including four top-line Springboks and a cluster of first-class countrymen.

The Leinster defence will have to be on its toes to deal with a number of threats from the Saracens attack which doesn't always come from their backs. The Guinness Premiership Players' Players of the Year Schalk Brits is, arguably, their most potent weapon.

"Brits has a free roam to do what he wants. When we have a defensive lineout, he will drop back to field the kick. He is almost like an extra back for the way he plays on attack for them," said Cullen.

"He seems to have electric feet where he can step off either foot. In general phases, he is in the wider channels quite a lot and (Ernst) Joubert the number eight can spend a lot of time out there as well."

With this in mind, Leinster could do with the presence of Brian O'Driscoll. This is almost certain not to happen. It would defy medical science for him to run out on Wembley's sacred turf.

The debate over his possible inclusion can be nothing more than a decoy tactic on the part of Leinster, while Joe Schmidt decides over the claims of Luke Fitzgerald, Fergus McFadden and Eoin O'Malley for the number 13 jersey.

Elsewhere, fly-half Jonathan Sexton should resume the goal-kicking responsibilities ahead of what has been the valuable contribution from Isa Nacewa. Sexton is quickly becoming the province's lynchpin.

Leinster have hit their straps at the right time and at the right pace to provide Saracens with a different type of challenge than they are used to in the Guinness Premiership.

It may just be enough to complete a smash and grab.

Verdict: leinster

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