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Leinster Rugby and Racing 92 will contest the first European Rugby Champions Cup final to be held outside of Europe’s traditional rugby territories on Saturday, as the eyes of the rugby world focus on the San Mamés Stadium in Bilbao.
The Irish province are chasing a fourth European Cup victory, after wins in 2009 (19-16 v Leinster), 2011 (33-22 v Northampton Saints) and 2012 (42-14 v Ulster Rugby).
Racing 92 are yet to taste success in Europe’s elite club competition, having reached the 2016 final in Lyon but were beaten 24-9 by Saracens.
Leinster’s run through the competition has been flawless, defeating 2017 winners Saracens 30-19 in the quarter-finals before a 38-16 victory over Scarlets in the last four.
Racing put in a brilliant away display to defeat 2017 finalists ASM Clermont Auvergne 28-17 in the quarter-finals, before blowing away Munster Rugby with an outstanding first half performance in the semi-finals – eventually running out 27-22 victors in Bordeaux.
? “It’s trying to keep it as normal as possible and do the things that have got us to this stage really, that’s what experience tells you. We don’t need to do things that we haven’t done so far.”#ChampionsCup #Bilbao2018 pic.twitter.com/ckoRUWzc09
— Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) May 11, 2018
Road to Bilbao
Leinster Rugby: Pool 3 – Montpellier (H) W 24-17; Glasgow Warriors (A) W 34-18; Exeter Chiefs (A) W 18-8; Exeter Chiefs (H) W 22-17; Glasgow Warriors (H) W 55-19; Montpellier (A) W 23-14; quarter-final – Saracens (H) W 30-19; semi-final – Scarlets W 38-16
Racing 92: Pool 4 – Leicester Tigers (H) W 22-18; Munster Rugby (A) L 7-14 ; Castres Olympique (A) L 13-16; Castres Olympique (H) W 29-7; Munster Rugby (H) W 34-30; Leicester Tigers (A) W 23-20; quarter-final – ASM Clermont Auvergne (A) W 28-17; semi-final – Munster Rugby W 27-22
What they said
Leinster Rugby: Leo Cullen on Racing 92 – “We are under no illusions. It is a very formidable bunch of players who we will be up against tomorrow but it is one of the great challenges that we face as a club.
“It’s trying to keep it as normal as possible and do the things that have got us to this stage really, that’s what experience tells you. We don’t need to do things that we haven’t done so far.”
Johnny Sexton on Leinster’s performance – “We have just got to go out there and play as best we can and top our quarter-final and semi-final performances because we know we are going to have to go to another level to win the game tomorrow.
“After the Scarlets game and the Saracens game there was things we could have done better and that is always our focus as a group. We know we can get better and we need to get better in a lot of areas.
Racing 92: Donnacha Ryan on Leo Cullen and James Ryan – “James has been incredible. I had the opportunity to play against him in a development game about two years ago and he has had an incredible season.
“He is playing alongside the most successful Irish second row in history. Devin [Toner] has won everything and done everything, and has got a ton of experience.
“Leo [Cullen] is very diligent in how he operates as well. They have had three weeks to come up with a few new things and it is how we react to them on the pitch. We have to try and close them down as best as we can.”
? “Only victory will satisfy us this time.”
Read the perspective of @Racing92‘s camp as the build-up to tomorrow’s Champions Cup final continues.
— Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) May 11, 2018
• The Racing 92 trio of Dan Carter (Crusaders 2002, 2005, 2006, 2008), Joe Rokocoko (Blues 2003) and Ben Tameifuna (Chiefs 2012, 2013), as well as Leinster’s Jamison Gibson-Park (Hurricanes 2016), are bidding to complete the double of Champions Cup and Super Rugby titles.
• Johnny Sexton’s 28 points against Northampton Saints in 2011 is the second-highest individual total in the 22 finals to date. Stade Francais Paris’ Diego Dominguez kicked 30 points against Leicester Tigers in 2011, but still ended up on the losing side.
• Racing’s Wenceslas Lauret, who made a match-high 20 tackles in the semi-final win over Munster, is hoping for third-time lucky in Bilbao. The in-form back row lost in the final with Biarritz Olympique in 2010 and lost again with Racing in Lyon two years ago.
• Four Leinster players – Cian Healy, Isa Nacewa, Johnny Sexton and Devin Toner – could equal the record of four European Cup winners’ medals held jointly by Cedric Heymans (Toulouse) and Frederic Michalak (Toulouse and RC Toulon).
• The final will be Dan Carter’s last European club match. The legendary New Zealander, who has won every major trophy in the game except the Champions Cup, started against Saracens in the 2016 decider in Lyon before being replaced due to injury.
• Leinster’s Leo Cullen and Racing 92’s Laurent Travers are bidding to become the first men to win the tournament as both player and coach.
• With more than 950,000 fans already through the Champions Cup turnstiles this season, the total tournament attendance for 2017/18 will pass the 1 million mark in Bilbao.
How to watch
Champions Cup final – Leinster Rugby v Racing 92
Saturday, 12 May – San Mamés Stadium
Kick-off 17.45 (local time)
BT Sport / Sky Sports / beIN SPORTS / FR2
Referee: Wayne Barnes (Eng)
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Leinster Rugby became European champions for the fourth time on Saturday after a thrilling 15-12 win over Racing 92 in the European Rugby Champions Cup Final at the San Mamés Stadium in Bilbao.
Isa Nacewa was the Leinster hero after slotting over two penalties in the final seven minutes to deny Racing 92 a first Champions Cup success.
The French side made the better start, taking the lead on three minutes through scrum-half Teddy Iribaren after Leinster were penalised for a high tackle by referee Wayne Barnes.
That lead lasted just over 10 minutes as Nacewa launched a Leinster attack down the left wing that led to a penalty for the Irish province. Fly-half Johnny Sexton duly slotted through the posts.
— Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) May 12, 2018
Iribaren put Racing 92 in front again from the kicking tee after 21 minutes but Leinster came roaring back and levelled things up just before half-time.
Barnes brought play back for a knock-on after the Irish province were pushing for the opening try of the afternoon, allowing Sexton to convert a simple penalty.
The second half started as the first with Iribaren putting Racing ahead from the kicking tee before Sexton levelled the score after 53 minutes.
Both sides made plenty of changes in the latter stages but it was scrum-half Iribaren who was able to put the French side back in front with a wonderfully executed penalty kick from the touchline with nine minutes to play.
This team ? pic.twitter.com/UOhkrrYHqC
— Leinster Rugby (@leinsterrugby) May 12, 2018
Nacewa – who was playing his last ever Champions Cup match for Leinster before retiring at the end of the season – put the Irish province level for the fourth time on 73 minutes from the tee but the best was still to come from the 35-year-old New Zealander.
Leinster won another penalty in front of the posts with just two minutes to play, and Nacewa made no mistake to put Leinster in front for the first and only time in the match.
Racing attempted to take the match to extra time and were able to drive the ball to the Leinster 22-metre line but the drop goal attempt of Rémi Tales fell wide to give the Irish province a record-equalling fourth European Cup.