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Sunday 19 May 2019

Stuart's inside line

Lancaster can disarm Sarries' power game

Stuart Lancaster on his way to Leinster training yesterday
Stuart Lancaster on his way to Leinster training yesterday

If there is a secret sauce to whipping Saracens, no one knows it better than Stuart Lancaster.

The former England coach gave Owen Farrell, Billy and Mako Vunipola, Brad Barritt, Alex Goode, George Kruis and Jamie George their international debuts back in the day.

The individual magnificence of England's finest is enhanced by the seasons they have been together, the experiences that have bound them into a tightly woven unit.

"They've played together in a Saracens team that's lost together, but also gone on to win together," said Lancaster.

The longevity of unity is right there in the second of their back-to-back European Cups in 2017.

"If they start Vincent Koch, which they may or may not do, it's pretty much the same pack. Mako, Jamie, Koch, Maro, Kruis, (Michael) Rhodes, (Jackson) Wray, (Billy) Vunipola, could easily be the same pack.

"Then, there are very few changes in the backline. They've been together a long time. There's a lot of experience in that team."

It will take great belief and confidence for Leinster to confirm last year's quarter-final form.

It remains to be seen whether they are in that happy heaven of knowing they have what it takes.

When asked whether this Saracens edition is the greatest one-off challenge in the game, Lancaster was keen to downplay this significance.

The misdirection led straight to Toulouse.

"Every game feels like that when you get to this level," he said.

"Toulouse felt like that in the semi-final. You see what they've done in the Top 14 and you're thinking 'jeez, if we don't get our defence sorted here we won't be making the final'.

"I don't think you put a score on it, if you like, and say 'this is the biggest one', in the context of both teams, it's the biggest game of the season, without a doubt, by a country mile."

However, Lancaster did a deep dive into how Mark McCall's men can strangle and suffocate.

"They've a very good defence, it's very well coached and disciplined," he started.

"You go through the defence coaches at the club - Andy Farrell leading to Paul Gustard, leading to Alex Sanderson.

"They're very good at playing the patient game and building pressure on the opposition."

Then, there is the calculated, cool-headed points machine that is Owen Farrell. "Owen's a world-class kicker, so if you're ill disciplined, they build three points, six points, nine points," said Lancaster. "In attack, I think they've really improved the quality of their starter plays,

"They've got the ability to play a power game, and with two ball players in Owen and Alex, they can kill you in the unstructured game."

The building blocks all add up to a fortress of patience and power.

If Leinster are to make it five from five in European Cup finals, they will have to avoid falling behind, make Saracens play catch-up.

"Yeah, it's the same with any team - Munster are the same, actually - who plays a pressure game, who build their game based on territory, as well as obviously power and footballing ability.

"It plays into their hands because you end up having to chase the game," he said. "Now it's not impossible to do because, I've seen teams do it, and we've done it against teams, when you've fallen behind and have to catch up. But it's definitely not the way you want to do it."

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