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Wednesday 16 October 2019

Sarries have a strong finish

Vincent Koch is one of many high-level performers Saracens often call on from the bench
Vincent Koch is one of many high-level performers Saracens often call on from the bench

England coach Eddie Jones labels them 'the finishers.' As long as there isn't a runaway winner in the Champions Cup final, those called to action for the final quarter, or thereabouts, will be tasked with closing the show.

This can be protecting a lead in a fraught finale or trying to overcome a deficit when desperation is in play.

Last year, Leinster had the wherewithal to turn a three-point arrears from a 70th-minute penalty by Racing 92's Teddy Iribaren into a three-point win in Bilbao when Isa Nacewa struck for penalties in the 73rd and 78th minutes.

This time around, the likely finishers for both clubs reveal a decided advantage in experience and gain-line power for Saracens. This is all based on the presumption that both teams will trot out the bench men predicted for Newcastle on Saturday.

The most glaring chasm in on-the-job hours will come at scrum-half, where Hugh O'Sullivan made his Leinster debut against Dragons only last September.

The Meathman has gathered up 14 caps, with just two starts fitted in, including a total of just eight minutes played in two Champions Cup appearances against Wasps (6) and Toulouse (2).

This is a meagre return on research for his potential to perform on the biggest stage in the club game.

Understandably, Leinster senior coach Stuart Lancaster made light of the difference, citing the impression 21-year-old O'Sullivan has made in Leinster.

"It's not like he's coming in as a rookie," said Lancaster.

"He's trained with us all year. He's started some PRO14 games. He's come off the bench in the Toulouse game."

In addition, it is said that O'Sullivan's best trait is his rugby intelligence and his strong mental make-up.

Medals

In contrast, Richard Wigglesworth is 35, has been capped 27 times by England and has a pocketful of medals, two from the European Cup.

Leinster will have the game management of Ross Byrne to call on, in case Jonathan Sexton does not make it to the 80th minute.

"Ross is a hugely experienced fly-half to be able to come on and Rory O'Loughlin is another experienced player, who has started PRO14 finals and Champions Cup games.

"We've got a lot of lads who have come through the system but have good experience as well."

Hooker James Tracy, should Sean Cronin come through training today, tight-head Andrew Porter and flanker Rhys Ruddock have also been capped by Ireland.

Max Deegan is making significant progress as something of a jack-of-all-trades loose forward with special athletic gifts.

However, Schalk Burger is a World Cup winner from 2007 and a veteran of 86 caps for South Africa.

Not now durable enough to last the pace, the 36-year-old is still a fine replacement to call on in a high-pressure situation. He has seen and dealt with every angle in the game.

Nine-time Springbok Vincent Koch, 29, should be in his prime as an explosive, ball-playing tight-head.

The trimmed-down Will Skelton is nothing short of a phenomenon when introduced to guarantee the gain line.

The Wallaby lock is a gifted offloader and must be approaching his prime at 27 years of age.

The return of Scotland's Sean Maitland could well force the electric international David Strettle down to the bench.

If there is no substitute for speed, the England wing hasn't lost much of his zip as a one-on-one nightmare.

All of this experience from being there on the biggest club and international occasions give Mark McCall an edge in impact to finish the stronger.

In the end, it could be what tips the balance in Sarries' favour.

THE FINISHERS

LEINSTER v SARACENS

J Tracy 16 J Gray

E Byrne 17 R Barrington

A Porter 18 V Koch

R Ruddock 19 W Skelton

M Deegan 20 S Burger

H O'Sullivan 21 R Wigglesworth

R Byrne 22 N Tompkins

R O'Loughlin 23 D Strettle

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