Leinster have won European rugby’s premier club competition on three previous occasions (2009, 2011 and 2012), and have had the aura of champions again in this year’s tournament. The Irish side won all six of their matches in the pool stage, before knocking out last year’s winners Saracens in the quarter-finals and then destroying Scarlets 38-16 in the last four. Leinster have also had another impressive domestic campaign, and reached the Pro14 semi-finals.
Champions Cup runners-up in 2016, Racing’s latest bid for a first European trophy got off to a faltering start as they came second to Munster in Pool 4 with a record of four wins and two defeats. Handed a tough draw away to fellow French team Clermont in the quarter-finals, Racing rose to the occasion with a 28-17 victory, and followed it up with an impressive 27-22 win over Munster in the semi-finals. Racing have also qualified for the Top 14 semi-finals in France.
The bookies are siding firmly with Leinster for this mouth-watering match-up and it is hard to make a case against them in the outright winner market. They are going for a record-equalling fourth major European trophy to go level with Toulouse, while Racing have less experience on the big stage. The Irish team have been scintillating at times this season and swatted aside Scarlets in the semi-finals with imperious style.
All five of the players shortlisted for the EPCR European Player of the Year 2018 award come from these two teams - with Leinster’s Scott Fardy, Johnny Sexton and Tadhg Furlong joined on the list of contenders by Racing duo Leone Nakarawa and Maxime Machenaud. Crucially, however, Machenaud will be missing for Racing in Bilbao after rupturing knee ligaments, leaving a big hole to be filled at scrum-half. Machenaud has been masterful in the knockout phase of the tournament and it seems unlikely that Racing will be able to replicate the sort of stunning performance they showed in the first half of the semi-final against Munster without their talismanic skipper.
Racing should still be extremely competitive, though, and in the tense cauldron of San Mames Stadium a tight encounter could well be on the cards. As ever, the handicap markets could offer the best value, with the odds suggesting that Leinster are around 10 points stronger than their opponents. That is still a considerable difference at this level and it is unlikely to be too open, so a better punt might be to go for Leinster to secure a slender winning margin of between 1 and 12 points, at a price of 8/5.
Sports.net’s Top Tip
Leinster 1-12 points
*Please note, odds may fluctuate.