‘We’re pretty confident’ – Lancaster certain Leinster will rise to the occasion in Newcastle

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Stuart Lancaster has no doubt but that Leinster will shed their recent inconsistencies and producing a monster performance against Saracens in a heavyweight European decider this Saturday.

The meeting of these two teams has everyone salivating. Both are club sides of Test standard and they have shared the last three Champions Cup titles between them with Leinster seeking what would be a record fifth star to sew on their chests.

Stuart Lancaster during Leinster’s press conference in UCD, Dublin, today. Pic: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

The number of British and Irish Lions involved at St James’ Park in Newcastle is likely to reach double figures, the international cap count is off the charts and both squads are replete with men who have amassed back-breaking weights of medals and trophies.

Leinster’s form, however, hasn’t been electric lately.

Two wins from their last six outings stretching back to the third week in March doesn’t make for great reading and they needed a large slice of good fortune to navigate a path past Ulster in the quarter-final at the Aviva Stadium.

The one impressive display was the semi-final defeat of Toulouse at the same stadium even if it has to be said that the other performances and results were coloured by the fact that they had already secured a home semi-final berth for the Guinness PRO14.

'We're pretty confident' - Lancaster certain Leinster will rise to the occasion in Newcastle
Backs coach Felipe Contepomi at training at Rosemount in UCD, Dublin, today. Pic: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Six Nations commitments and the need to rest top players added to the needed to rotate during this recent period and they did claim the double last year despite a lead-in that was remarkably similar to the difficulties being suffered of late.

“People have sort of looked back at the season and said, ‘oh, we haven’t quite fired on all cylinders’ but I go back to the point, we put 50-odd points on Wasps, we beat Bath by 40 points at the Aviva,” said Lancaster, Leinster’s senior coach, today.

“These are big games and big moments. We’re confident in our ability to turn up and play in the big games. We’ve done it over the last couple of years. I thought we were more cohesive against Toulouse than we were against Ulster.”

“There was a reason for that: getting the lads back after the Six Nations and some of the injuries we had in the lead-up to that game. Those couple of weeks together definitely showed in the Toulouse performance and hopefully, it will show again.

“It’ll need to as Saracens, for me, are playing some outstanding rugby.”

Lancaster was effusive in his praise for the English giants who have scored 88 points against Glasgow Warriors and Munster so far in the knockout stages having navigated the pool stages undefeated.

Saracens players have also made a point of referencing the previous meeting of the sides – last season’s season comfortable quarter-final win for Leinster in Dublin – throughout the course of this campaign. Revenge is clearly on their minds.

“The one thing I would say is that I think we’re in a similar position last year,” Lancaster countered. “We won six from six, quarter-final, semi-final and we got the lead in the final {against Racing 92] on 78 minutes and 30 seconds at 15-12.

'We're pretty confident' - Lancaster certain Leinster will rise to the occasion in Newcastle
James Lowe during Leinster training in UCD, Dublin, today. Pic: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

“So, what happens in the lead-up to a final and what happens in a final are two different things. We’re very respectful of what they can offer both as an attacking team but also as a defensive team as well.

“Their aerial threat, they’ve got world-class players in a lot of the positions and are very good: strong team spirit, work-ethic for each other. Brilliantly coached by Mark McCall and his team, I know Mark well. A lot of respect for the way he’s built the club.

“We’re pretty confident ourselves as well.”

The former England head coach brings a unique perspective to this game having given a number of the Saracens players their first taste of Test rugby before the World Cup humiliation in 2015 which prompted him to take his talents across the Irish Sea.

No other coach has anything like as forensic a knowledge of the players in both camps and it was no surprise when he was asked to sum up maybe the most obvious of head-to-heads this weekend – the face-off at No.10 between Jonathan Sexton and Owen Farrell.

“I have coached them both but that is the same for Jack Conan and Billy Vunipola or Maro Itoje and James Ryan. The list goes on really. A lot is being said about the 10, but we would like to think that we have a lot of people who can be ballplayers in the back line.

“As Saracens do. Just look at Alex Lozowski, Alex Goode and Brad [Barritt] can obviously play as a first receiver. So there are a lot of match-ups across the board. There’s others then: Tadhg Furlong and Mako Vunipola in the scrum, Jamie George and Sean Cronin etc, etc…”

The list goes on an on. The wait is very nearly over.

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