Michael Cheika (Head Coach) and Leo Cullen, (Captain) Leinster Photo by: PA Wire/Press Association Images

Heineken Cup Final preview


Michael Cheika (Head Coach) and Leo Cullen, (Captain) Leinster Photo by: PA Wire/Press Association Images

Leicester Tigers will do battle with Leinster in Edinburgh on Saturday evening, with the title of Europe's finest club side the reward for the victor.

And, pleasingly, it is a game that many believe is too close to call. That may be a tired cliché and something of a cop-out but it is an accurate summation of the game.

Leicester, of course, have history on their side. Saturday’s game will be their fifth appearance in the Heineken Cup decider and they have two tournament wins to their name already, in 2001 and 2002.

Leinster, by contrast, are making their first ever final appearance and there are those that believe that Leicester’s experience will prove decisive. Indeed, Leinster have long been accused of failing to rise to the occasion and that is again being used to support the case for Leicester this weekend.

However, Leinster proved their mettle in the semi-finals when they dethroned Munster with a stunning 26-6 victory before a packed house at Croke Park.

As defending champions, Munster had been the overwhelming favorites to prevail. Indeed, they had just completed an incredibly commanding Magners League double over Leinster with a 22-5 victory at Thomond Park just two weeks previously.

However, Leinster shocked Munster and the rest of Europe – and the bookies – by producing one of the finest team performances in their history, one of incredible intensity and composure, to run out shockingly easy winners.

Leinster’s triumph that day was based on an awesome effort from their pack, which was led quite magnificently by the peerless Rocky Elsom, and they will need something equally impressive on Saturday.

Leicester are a phenomenal unit. On the face of it, they would appear to have the edge on Leinster in the set-piece and in the line-out.

Behind the scrum, meanwhile, they have the ever improving fly-half Sam Vesty and the always unpredictable Julien Dupuy, who could be playing his last game for The Tigers.

Then there’s the power of Alesana Tuilagi, who returns after suspsension to take the place of Johne Murphy, and the intelligence and flair of Geordan Murphy. This is a supremely well-rounded side. And one that, crucially, knows how to win.

Indeed, this is a side that has the uncanny knack of being able to grind out wins, as they proved in their Guinness Premiership final success over London Irish last weekend.

The counterargument is, of course, that Leicester might very well be tired after their recent run of grueling fixtures – they were taken to a shootout by Cardiff in the semis – but they appear to have some serious momentum at exactly the right time of the season.

Leinster, of course, should be fresher, having been able to rest all of their key men – bar Rob Kearney, who needed game time after his recent bout of the mumps – for their final Magners League fixture, against Newport Gwent Dragons last weekend.

There victory over Munster, who were considered by all and sundry as the best team in Europe, almost unstoppable, will have instilled the Irish province with real belief and with Brian O’Driscoll in the form that he is in, anything is possible. They have also been defensively sublime of late, having held both Munster and Harlequins try-less in their previous European outings.

However, in a game of such small margins, one wonders if they will come to rue the injury-enforced absences of regular fly-half Felipe Contepomi, who has proven so pivotal to the way Leinster play over the past few seasons, and former Springbok prop CJ van der Linde.

Verdict: Leicester to edge a desperately close, and perhaps low-scoring, contest.

Leicester Tigers: G Murphy [capt]; S Hamilton, A Erinle, D Hipkiss, A Tuilagi; S Vesty, J Dupuy; M Ayerza, G Chuter, M Castrogiovanni, T Croft, B Kay, C Newby, B Woods, J Crane.
Replacements: B Kayser, J White, L Deacon, L Moody, H Ellis, M Smith, J Murphy.

Leinster: I Nacewa; S Horgan, B O'Driscoll, G D'Arcy, L Fitzgerald; J Sexton, C Whitaker; C Healy, B Jackman, S Wright, L Cullen [capt], M O'Kelly, R Elsom, S Jennings, J Heaslip.
Replacements: J Fogarty, R McCormack, D Toner, S O'Brien, S Keogh, R Kearney, G Dempsey.


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