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THE EUROPEAN Rugby Champions Cup comes to an end today with Leinster and Racing 92 clashing in Bilbao with the trophy on the line
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The Continental Shield final will also take place in the Basque city as the expansion of the sport into new and emerging markets across Europe gathers pace. The recently-renovated arena is the home of soccer’s Athletic Club and will host matches at the UEFA EURO 2020 tournament. The strength of the Bilbao bid was bolstered by a collaborative approach between a number of local and regional stakeholders.
While Ireland stand-off Johnny Sexton starts at 10 for Leinster, Carter has fallen down the pecking order at his Parisian side. The 36-year-old, who has agreed a move to Japanese side Kobe Steelers when his three-year contract expires at the end of the season, is joined on the bench by compatriot Joe Rokocoko. Racing are without scrum-half and first-choice place-kicker Maxime Machenaud, with Teddy Iribaren stepping in at nine.
For Leinster, my eyes will be on Leinster talisman and another club legend, Isa Nacewa. This will be his last European appearance before retirement and what a servant he has been, not only to Leinster but to European rugby itself as his versatility and leadership have played a key role in the province’s triumphs in the last dozen years or so. He has the crash-ball capacity to play inside centre as well as the pace and the ability to receive crossfield kicks to play on the wing. Wherever he’s playing, Racing 92 beware, he is always a threat and Leinster will want nothing more than to send him off with his 3rd Champions Cup trophy.
For Racing, my one to look out for will be Leone Nakarawa, originally nominated for the European Player of the Season, his offloading ability is simply unrivalled in the northern hemisphere, he can grace the ball in one hand so effectively. No matter how you tackle him, the Fijian superstar will still be able to find some way to get the ball to a teammate. But it’s not just his supreme offloading that will threaten Leinster on Saturday, it will also be his pace and power as well as his engine, as he has played every single minute of Racing’s games this tournament.