Saracens aren’t invincible, provincial championships losing their edge

Morning Sports Briefing: Keep ahead of the game with ‘The Irish Times’ sports team

Saracens celebrate their Champions Cup victory over Leinster. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty

Saracens celebrate their Champions Cup victory over Leinster. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty

In his column this morning Gerry Thornley reflects on last weekend’s Champions Cup final between Leinster and Saracens in Newcastle, which saw the English Premiership side lift the trophy for a third time in four years after a 20-10 victory at St James’ Park. Between them the two sides have won seven of the last 11 Heineken Cups, as the tournament becomes increasingly dominated by a small number of sides. He writes: “These are changing times at the elite end of European rugby, which has become more established than ever. In the first six years years of what is now the Heineken Champions Cup, there were six different winners. In the first 11 there were eight. In the last dozen years, there have been just five different champions (and in the last nine years just three).” However he believes that while Leinster were ultimately outplayed and outgunned on the day, they have a good chance of turning the tables on Saracens next time they meet: “No one’s saying it’s going to be easy. Not with the Saracens juggernaut top dogs again. But they’re not invincible.”

As the summer slowly starts to pick up so too do the provincial football championships, and last weekend saw Roscommon thrash Leitrim 3-17 to 0-12 and progress to the Connacht semi-finals. But in his column this morning, Kevin McStay suggests the provincial championships are losing much of their lustre and could be reaching the end of the line as they lose their lifeblood - great rivalries and the potential for an upset. He writes: “That was the power of the local rivalry, the potential for this unexpected shock. It’s probably the elemental thrill of the football championship: the possibility that one county will defy form and tradition and use the energy of that rivalry to take their neighbour out.” And he writes that the days of the great provincial shock could be over: “But I think the idea of the All-Ireland champions being taken down in provincial games is becoming increasingly remote. . . Rivalries are disappearing. Dublin-Meath is over - at least for now. Kerry and Cork is not a rivalry, at least for the present time. Mayo and Galway has never been more alive. But Tyrone and Armagh is nothing like the contest it was a decade ago.”

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