The 2012 Heineken Cup Final between Ulster and defending champions Leinster takes place this Saturday at Twickenham and will be the first ever final played between two teams from The Emerald Isle. The match also underlines the recent dominance that the Irish Provinces have enjoyed in Europe’s Premier Tournament, as whatever side wins, it will be for a fifth Irish win in the last seven years.
Despite being neighbours, the two sides play to a completely different strategy, with Ulster relying on its powerful pack and the trusty kicking of half backs, Ian Humphreys and Ruan Pienaar, while Leinster play 15 man rugby encouraged to run the ball whenever possible.
Both teams got to the final having come out on top in closely fought Semi Finals, which saw Ulster defeat Edinburgh 22-19 in Dublin where Pienaar kicked 5/5 penalties and converted their only try scored by flanker Pedrie Wannenburg.
Leinster had to withstand huge pressure in the final minutes in Bordeauxfrom Clermont Auvergneto win their place in the final. The match had been ultimately decided early in the second half, in Leinster’s favour by a glorious spell of individual rugby by full back Rob Kearney. The British Lion set up the only try of the game for Cian Healy after 41 minutes before weighing in with a 50 metre drop goal five minutes later. This gave Leinster the lead which they never relinquished winning the match 19-15.
The scoring statistics reveal that Ulster scored 18 tries compared to Leinster’s 23, although Ulster amassed more try bonus points however, due to two convincing wins over Italian side Aironi and a 41-7 surprise thrashing of Leicester at Ravenhill in January. Ulster conceded 122 points in 8 games (including 10 tries), at an average of 15.25 points per game, whilst Leinster’s total of 106 points conceded (including 7 tries) came at an average of 13.25 per game. With the ball in hand Leinster has the edge, scoring 23 tries in their 8 games compared to Ulster’s 18.
In an overall sense, the two teams have enjoyed similar campaigns, although Leinster has won every game played with the exception of the Pool Stage match against Glasgow which ended in a draw, Ulster on the other hand lost twice in the Pool stages, with one of those defeats, significantly coming against Clermont Auvergne who beat them 19-15; their other defeat came against Leicester.
In fact Leinster have not been beaten in the Heineken Cup since the Pool stages in December 2010, a stat which underlines their great desire in this competition. Ulster also showed in their Quarter Final match against Munster that they too have a great desire to win the Trophy for a second time and as such, the odds provided by Betting Directory for the Heineken Cup final, show that it is Leinster who are the warm favourites to win at 1/4 ($1.25) whilst Ulster are a 3/1 ($4.00) chance. In this match Craig Gilroy showed why he has become one of the most exciting backs in Irish rugby these days by scoring one of the tries of the season. The match also demonstrated the strength of the Ulster pack who forced penalty after penalty with Ruan Pienaar on hand to convert the vast majority of them.
Ulster’s strategy has been hugely successful this season and if Leinster concedes too many penalties, particularly in their half of the pitch then Pienaar will ruthlessly punish them. However, the Leinster’s forwards are a vastly experienced unit in their own right and will provided very stiff resistance to the power of Ulster. In behind them they have the kicking talents of Johnny Sexton at fly half and a try-scoring back line that includes Kearney, Isa Nacewa and the mercurial Brian O’Driscoll in the centre.
This has all the ingredients of becoming an outstanding final played between highly motivated teams that will give their all over the 80 minutes. Leinster however, has proven over the years that they are almost impossible to defeat in this competition and as such they are fully expected to win the Heineken Cup for a third time on four years.
Prediction: Leinster Victory by between 6-10 points.