- Feb 28, 2011
The 2012 Final will be contested between two sides from the Emerald Isle, but their geographical location is really the only similarity between the teams. Ulster Rugby play their home games at Ravenhill in Belfast are the sole Northern Irish rugby province while Leinster Rugby play their home games in Dublin, the Capital City of the Republic of Ireland. It’s not just National and Political borders which separate the two teams, likewise their style’s could hardly be further apart. Ulster have built their success round a dominant forward pack and the skillful kicking games of both half backs, South African number 9 Ruan Pienaar and the departing Outside Half Ian Humphreys, who was a member of the Leicester Tigers squad who lost to Wasps in the 2006/07 final. Leinster contrarily have build their recent success around the play of their back line, which includes Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll and 6 other Internationals including the in- form Rob Kearney at Fullback.
Statistically this season both teams have had similar campaign’s thus far, Ulster conceded just 87 points during the group stages (including 8 tries), the fewest of any team in the first 6 games of the competition. Leinster allowed just 1 point more than their opponents during the group stage, with 88 in their 6 Pool 3 games (including 7 tries), in total Ulster have allowed 122 points in 8 games (including 10 tries) this Heineken Cup season, an average of 15.25 points per game, compared to Leinster’s total of 106 (including 7 tries) at an average of 13.25 per game. With the ball in hand Leinster had a slight edge during the group stages, scoring 18 tries compared to Ulster’s 16. Ulster amassed more try bonus points though, as result of 2 convincing wins over Italian minnows Aironi and a 41-7 humbling of Leicester Tigers at Ravenhill in January. Leinster only recorded 2 try bonus points from their 6 games in Pool 3 during 2 impressive home victories, 38-13 against Glasgow and 52-27 against Bath. Ulster did however taste defeat during the group stage, a fate that Leinster did not suffer, as they lost to Pool 4 opponents Clermont Auvergne in the South of France and Leicester in the East Midlands of England.
While there may not have been much between the 2 sides during the group stages of the competition the knock out phase is where Leinster come alive and after they easily brushed aside an under strength Cardiff Blues side at the Aviva Stadium they showed their collective mental strength as they held out against Clermont Auvergne in their semi final, a team who beat Ulster 19-15 in Pool 4. The way Leinster defended their goal line at the end of a ***anic struggle in Bordeaux after 6 minutes of brilliance from Rob Kearney where he provided Cian Healy with an easy run to the line to score the game’s only try and he dropped a goal from 50 metres out to take the score from 12-6 to Clermont to 16-12 to Leinster only underlined why they are defending champions. Ulster’s knock out phase heroics came in their away victory over Munster where Craig Gilroy showed why he’s one of the most exciting talents in Irish rugby and Ruan Pienaar showed exactly why he commands the exorbitant salary Ulster pay him. Gilroy’s superb solo effort was cancelled out by Munster’s own prodigious talent Simon Zebo but Munster had no answer for Pienaar’s 5 place kicks. Their semi final however was a different story as they toiled to beat a belligerent Edinburgh side and really only managed to when they completely shut down the game and ground out penalty after penalty threw their forwards.
Ulster have been successful with their basic 10 man rugby this season and if Leinster concede numerous infringements then they Pienaar will no doubt make them pay with his boot, but Leinster’s forwards should prove a difficult nut for the Ulster 8 to crack and if the Dubliner’s can provide a back line including Jonny Sexton, Brian O’Driscoll, Rob Kearney and Isa Nacewa any sort of ball then their opposite numbers will have a very tiring day trying to prevent a team who have crossed the try line 23 times in total this Heineken Cup season. Leinster have lost just 4 Heineken Cup games in the last 4 seasons and only once since the 12[SUP]th[/SUP] of December 2010 when they fell 20-13 to Clermont Auvergne at the Stade Marcel Michelin, the team who they vanquished in this season’s semi final. The shortest odds for a winning margin is Leinster to win by between 6 and 10 points, which is 9/2 however if the result is that close then there’s a real chance that Ulster could win, I expect Leinster will win by at least 10 points, after all they won the final by 11 points last year having been 22-6 points behind Northampton Saints at half time.
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