The climax of european club rugby's most prestigious tournament will be fought out between Leinster (vying for their third success in four years) and Ulster (who last won the tournament in 1999). Whichever side wins, it will be the fifth time in seven seasons that the winner's trophy will be showcased in an Irish trophy cabinet. At club level at least, Ireland seems to rule supreme.
ROAD TO THE FINAL
Pool Stages: Glasgow Warriors, Bath, Montpellier
Quarter-Final: Cardiff Blues
That semi-final against Clermont showcased all the drama for which the Heineken Cup is so heralded. The game will be forever remembered for 10 minutes of 'Kearney time', in which their inspired fullback Rob Kearney produced a searing break which resuted in a try and then converted a crucial drop goal from near the half-way line to leave both opposition players and fans in shock. It could just as easily be Clermont in the final though. Let us not forget that the difference between the two team was ultimately the width of Wesley Fofana's bicep. Sometimes great teams make their own luck...
Pool Stages: Clermont Auvergne, Leicester, Aironi
|Gilroy's solo try against Munster|
Ulster's semi -final against Edinburgh was far more straight-forward, with Pienaar's deadly boot again leaving the opposition pleading for mercy. Edinburgh closed the gap towards the end with a late length of the field try, but the game had already been won. Next up....the final!
Brad Thorn/ Leo Cullen (Leinster) Vs Johann Muller/ Dan Tuohy (Ulster)
The battle between the sides locks will be fascinating, both on the floor and up in the air. The addition of kiwi Brad Thorn to Leinster's pack has added some real bite to their pack and has shored up their scrummaging too. Joe schmidt must be ecstatic that Thorn was willing to answer his S.O.S. Leo Cullen as always remains the heart-beat of the side alongside him. Meanwhile for Ulster, Johann Muller brings with him a wealth of experience and know-how in big games. Ulster's South African spine has been incredibly influential this year and if Ulster are to be crowned champions for the second time in their history, they will need to up the ante once more. Dan Tuohy is the baby of the group, but he is hugely athletic and is a very exciting prospect. If he performs well, he will have done his international prospects now harm at all. Ireland coach Declan Kidney will be watching intently no doubt.
Jonny Sexton (Leinster) Vs Ruan Pienaar (Ulster)
If Jonny Sexton kicks Leinster to victory once more, the 'Sexton legend' will only continue to grow. Sexton apparantly gave a stirring team talk during the half-time break of last year's final, which led to an improbable comeback against Northampton Saints. Last year's Man of the Match has a very difficult kicking battle ahead of him though. Like in most finals, the scoreline is likely to be very tight between the two sides, so who comes out on top between himself and Ruan Pienaar could well decide the tie. The South African has been flawless from the tee this year and his recent influence over Ulster has been comparable to the great european competitor Dimitri Yachvilli of Biarritz. The stage is set...we could be in for some real drama once again!
This game is going to be a titanic battle. I expect the game to be hugely physical, but I have a feeling Leinster's class behind the back may ultimately tell. The likes of Sexton, O'Driscoll, D'Arcy, Kearney and Nacewa have crucially all been here before, so one would expect that they might settle into the final more quickly than Ulster. In coach Joe Schmidt, Leinster also have one of the brightest and most innovative coaches around in world rugby. Don't be surprised to see a magnificently creative backline move on show at some point.
If however Ulster get an early march on in the final, I would fancy it to turn into a bit of an arm wrestle with Pienaar's boot making it very difficult for Leinster. Playing catch up rugby can make even the most experienced veterans do some pretty daft things and the neutrals i'm sure will be backing Ulster as underdogs. I'm sticking to my guns though and expect Leinster to win for an unprecedented 3rd time in 4 years.
Leinster by 3 points!
Who do you think will come out on top? As always leave your opinion in the comments section!
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