Leinster head coach Leo Cullen has billed today’s Champions Cup final in Bilbao as a clash between the paupers from Ireland and the aristocrats of France.
Racing 92 stand between Leinster and a record-equalling fourth European crown, with Cullen eager to highlight their contrasting approaches to scaling the pinnacle of the club game in this hemisphere.
While Ireland have benefited from the production line of homegrown talent emerging from their most successful province, billionaire property mogul Jacky Lorenzetti has spent vast sums signing some of the sport’s biggest names for Racing.
Among them is Dan Carter, pictured below, the New Zealand great who has once again been selected among the replacements to make room for Pat Lambie as starting stand-off.
“Having Dan Carter on your bench says it all,” said Cullen, who shares the management duties with former England head coach Stuart Lancaster.
“They have assembled an expensive bunch of players and we have to do things fairly differently at Leinster by producing guys from within mainly, although we bring in a couple of key signings from overseas.
“It’s very much a clash of style in terms of how you assemble a squad. We’re under no illusions, it’s a very formidable bunch of players that we’ll be up against.
“It’s one of the great challenges that we face as a club moving forward – you see some of the French teams and the resources they have available, and the calibre of players they have been signing over the years makes it a great challenge for us.”
Carter is playing his final European match for Racing before heading to Japanese club rugby, but Leinster stand-off Jonathan Sexton insists that, even at 36 years old, the World Cup winner remains a threat.
“I haven’t played against Pat Lambie much. We expected him to start because he’s done so well for them throughout the competition,” said Sexton, who spent two years at Racing until 2015.
“The way Lambie played against Munster in the semi-finals and the way he has played all season meant we thought he’d be likely to start.
“Obviously when you have a player like Carter in your squad it’s a real strength and they can bring him on when they see fit.
“Off the bench he’s still a threat for them. He changed the quarter-final against Clermont and the game changed a lot when he came on against Munster. He still a world-class player who will be keen to make an impact when he does come on.”
Despite Cullen’s eagerness to paint Leinster as the underdogs who punch above their weight, Racing’s France No 8 Yannick Nyanga points out they have been backed to win by bookmakers.
“Even though they’re favourites we don’t have a problem with that – we have the firepower to worry any team,” Nyanga said.
“But what we want to do is not only to worry them, but to beat them. I hope to return home with a big smile on my face, holding the trophy.”