By Brendan O’Brien
Donnacha Ryan has no illusions as to the imposing scale of the challenge facing his Racing 92 side as they approach Saturday’s Champions Cup final with Leinster at Bilbao’s San Mames stadium.
The former Munster lock spent 14 seasons in the red of his native province before making the switch to Paris last summer so his knowledge of what makes Leinster tick is long and detailed after so many past meetings.
“It’s always difficult playing against Leinster,” he said on Friday evening after Racing’s captain’s run at the hugely impressive 52,389-capacity venue.
“Usually we played them in wetter conditions and it could be pretty hot here in Bilbao.
He isn’t far wrong.
Thirteen of the side named by Leinster for this decider featured in Ireland’s victorious Six Nations campaign. The odd men out are Isa Nacewa, who is the best value import in Irish rugby history, and Scott Fardy who played for Australia in a World Cup final in 2015.
Ryan’s appreciation of the opposition is shared by his captain Yannick Nyanga but that isn’t to say that any of the Top 14 side’s expensively-assembled players will contemplate playing second fiddle come kick-off.
“They are a great team and a lot has been said about them,” said Nyanga. “They are a fully confident team. We have to play the game and if they are better than us then we will say congratulations but we are not going to let it go.”
Racing’s XV is as expected with Teddy Iribaren starting at scrum-half in place of the injured and talismanic scrum-half and place-kicker Maxime Machenaud.
The 27-year old has enjoyed a decent career with spells in Tarbes, Montpellier and Brive but the lack of recognition from those in charge of the French national side would suggest that he is at a level below the man he replaces.
“Teddy is talented enough to express himself,” said co-coach Laurent Travers. “He has shown before that he has a key role in the team and what we expect from him is as good a Teddy job as he did at the start of the season. I am sure he will play a great game.”