Well, it’s going to be a great game of rugby, and Irish eyes will be smiling either way! For the first time ever, 2 Irish provinces will be contesting the Heineken Cup final, both with a chance to make history.
If Leinster win, they’ll become only the second ever team to retain the Heineken Cup, after Leicester did it in 2001/’02. Also, Leo Cullen will become the first captain to lead his team to 3 Heineken Cups. If Leinster win, this will be their 3rd Heineken Cup in 4 years, an unprecedented record. They are hot favourites to win the game.
If Ulster win they will become the 3rd Irish province to have won double Heineken’s (Ulster won it in 1999, though that year all the English clubs dropped out due to disputes over distribution of funds). Odds on Ulster winning are 3-1, which is a pretty good bet all things considering.
Leinster are on a real roll at the moment. They are, of course, defending champions and have remained undefeated throughout the whole of the tournament. Their only lapse was drawing their first game.
As a result of their great record, they accumulated 24 points to top their pool, which was double the points tally of Glasgow, who reached second place. They destroyed Cardiff in the quarter-final, 34-3, and then went on to beat Montpellier in a very close semi.
Ulster had a tougher route to the final; they had a much tougher pool, where they came a very close 2nd place, after losing out on points difference. They then had a very tough prospect in meeting Munster in the quarters, at Thomond Park.
They won that game, creating history by becoming only the second ever team to beat Munster at Thomond. They then beat Edinburgh in a close semi-final. Even getting to the final is an historic occasion for them.
Leinster do have the superior team to Ulster, with a lot of the current Irish stars (Kearney, O’Driscoll, Sexton, Heaslip, O’Brien, Healy), augmented by talented overseas players, especially Isa Nacewa, whose become a real star for Leinster, and Brad Thorn, the legendary New Zealand second-row.
Ulster have their own overseas contingent, mainly from South Africa. Especially Ruan Pienarr at scrum-half, whose better than either Eoin Reddan or Isaac Boss. Ulster are also superior at hooker (Rory Best) and back row (Stephen Ferris is playing better than either Sean O’Brien of Jaimie Heaslip).
Leinster will be with out Luke Fitzgerald, whose both injured and in contract limbo at the moment. Fitzgerald has been one of the stand-out stars for Leinster this season, despite being left out of the Irish squad since before the World Cup. Fergus McFadden is his replacement, and he’s been playing very well this season.
Ulster seem to have taken Munster’s place in the provincial pecking order, and a win for them would be great for Irish sport overall. Having said that I just think that Leinster are on too much of a roll at the moment (they’re also facing Ospreys in the Rabo final). I think it will be a closer game than people think, but I think Leinster will do it.
Leinster: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Fergus McFadden, 13 Brian O’Driscoll, 12 Gordon D’Arcy, 11 Isa Nacewa, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Eoin Reddan, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O’Brien, 6 Kevin McLaughlin, 5 Brad Thorn, 4 Leo Cullen (capt), 3 Mike Ross, 2 Richardt Strauss, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Heinke van der Merwe, 18 Nathan White, 19 Devin Toner, 20 ShaneJennings, 21 Isaac Boss, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 DavidKearney.
Ulster: 15 Stefan Terblanche, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Paddy Wallace, 11 Craig Gilroy, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Pedrie Wannenburg, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Stephen Ferris, 5 Dan Tuohy, 4 Johann Muller (capt), 3 John Afoa, 2 Rory Best, 1 Tom Court.
Replacements: 16 Nigel Brady, 17 Paddy McAllister, 18 Declan Fitzpatrick, 19 Lewis Stevenson, 20 Willie Faloon, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Ian Humphreys, 23 Adam D’Arcy.