Saracens v Racing ‘will be physical’

Dan Carter

Expect thunderclaps and bolts of lightning when Saracens and Racing 92 collide in the European Champions Cup final on Saturday – it is going to be massively physical in Lyon.

There are plenty of exciting match-ups – London v Paris, Kruis and Itoje v the Racing line-out, and Billy Vunipola v Chris Masoe among them.

But the big duel is at fly-half.


Racing’s Dan Carter is one of the all-time greats, Owen Farrell aspires to become so – can the latter guide Saracens to victory or will Carter add yet another trophy to his laden shelves?

The greatest, I am

Carter is rugby’s Yoda. The former All Black has won the lot – two World Cups, three world player of the year awards, the list goes on.

England’s Farrell is Luke Skywalker to continue the Star Wars Jedi comparison, the youngster making his way in the game.

Carter has everything you could wish to have in a fly-half: he’s got knowledge of the game, the skillset, deceptive pace, the mental ability and the physical toughness.


For years in the England camp they’ve talked about players saying ‘if only he was a mixture of X, Y and Z he would be the ideal fly-half’. What they meant was, he’d be Dan Carter.

There is nothing Carter lacks and the only negative is his age. At 34 he’s not as quick as he once was and he doesn’t put the hits in like he could when he was a young man – although there was nothing wrong with his defence against Leicester in the semis.

One of his greatest abilities is to up the pace of the game – he goes from slow to super-fast in the blink of an eye, which means the opposition defence is always on edge.

Farrell has developed this season

England fly-half Farrell, 24, has unbelievable mental toughness. He’s also physically strong, good defensively and a great goal-kicker under pressure – when it’s required he nails it.

This season he’s developed his running and passing game and it’s no coincidence that Saracens have also opened up more than in the past.

He’s not the quickest, but he’s not the slowest and he’s running good support lines.


I don’t think he’s the best tactical kicker though. Someone like Carter can feel the game and defensive pressure and knows where to send the ball – you can just sense it – whereas Farrell is still learning that aspect.

Farrell is working very hard to develop and for me he’s one of the most improved players around.

A mirror image?

A season ago I would have said the way the two sides play was a mirror image of each other – kick for territory, chase hard, defend ferociously, batter the opposition with your big ball carriers and only open up inside the opponents’ half.

But Saracens have opened up their game and now look to score tries from anywhere outside their 22, whereas before they would always look to exit their half before starting to play attacking rugby.


Racing Metro 92’s centre Albert Vulivuli falls during the French Top 14 rugby union match against Clermont

They’ve always scored a fair amount of tries but I think they have a far broader repertoire these days and with the likes of Chris Ashton running his support lines and Alex Goode creating things they have a very useful backline that is really flourishing thanks to the brilliant ball their pack gives them.

Racing physically pounded Leicester in the semis and did it so well that Tigers kept spilling the ball because they were worried about the hits coming in, and the French side will look to do that against Sarries too.

But I don’t think Sarries will be shocked by Racing’s physicality – they’re too well prepared and will know Racing will look to bring physical power to bear.

It is intimidating, but Sarries have forwards of the calibre of England locks Maro Itoje and George Kruis, the Vunipola brothers Billy and Mako, and impressive tight-head Petrus Du Plessis.

Key areas

Racing have got to be careful in the line-outs where Kruis and especially Itjoe will be a major ball-stealing threat.

Some of the battles, such as that between England’s young behemoth Billy Vunipola and hard as nails former New Zealand international Chris Masoe at number eight, will be ferocious.

Kicking out of hand will also be key. We know Carter is a master of pinning teams back and I think Racing’s back three will be peppered by Saracens.

Brice Dunlin, Juan Imhoff and Joe Rokocoko are a dangerous trio but are not the best kickers, so it will be interesting to see how they deal with the barrage that is likely to come their way – will they try to run it back and get snared by Sarries’ wolfpack defence?


Saracens will look to match Racing 92’s power through the likes of Billy Vunipola (right)

Sarries have the capacity to show more adventure when needed. They can play any kind of game but they will start tactically and play for territory.

However, when this big, relatively unfit Racing pack shows sign of fatigue, expect Saracens to go in for the kill.


Saracens should be favourites solely because of their experience of this sort of situation – this is their second final in three years and they have reached the semis for the last four years in a row.

If Sarries don’t buckle early on under Racing’s power – and I don’t expect them to – they will win by seven at least.

For the latest rugby union news follow @bbcrugbyunion on Twitter.

Jeremy Guscott was speaking to BBC Sport’s James Standley.

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