Former champions eye euro repeat
May 20, 2011
Northampton (left) celebrate their Heineken Cup Final victory over Munster in 2000 and Leinster (right) delight in the victory over Leicester in 2009 © Getty Images
Leinster and Northampton will both be looking to re-live past glories when they go head-to-head in this season's Heineken Cup Final at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday.
The Irish province are the most recent of the two to have tasted success in Europe's premier club competition having seen off the challenge of Leicester Tigers in 2009 but the Saints also boast significant pedigree having account for Munster in the 2000 tournament finale.
Leinster, who are chasing an unprecedented Magners League-Heineken Cup double, enter the clash as favourites having emerged from a 'pool of death' featuring Clermont Auvergne, Racing Metro and Saracens before proving too strong for the Tigers once again in the quarter-finals. But they saved their most impressive display for defending champions Toulouse who were sent packing in the semi-finals.
Northampton must accept underdog status despite being the only side to have progressed to the knock-out stages unbeaten where they mastered Cardiff Blues, Castres and Edinburgh. Ulster were then despatched in the quarter-finals before Perpignan went the same way in the final four leaving Saints on the brink of becoming the first side to go unbeaten in the competition in its current format. However, they saw their own bid for a notable double ended by defeat to Leicester in the Aviva Premiership semi-finals in their most recent outing last weekend.
Leinster - Player to Watch: Centre Brian O'Driscoll has long been the heartbeat of this side and his presence in the line-up having emerged from an injury cloud is sure to be a key factor at the Millennium Stadium.
Leinster - Team News: O'Driscoll has recovered from a knee injury suffered in last weekend's Magners League semi-final victory over Ulster and will once again partner Gordon D'Arcy in the midfield. Shane Horgan returns to the side on the right wing at the expense of Fergus McFadden while Eoin Reddan gets the nod at scrum-half ahead of Isaac Boss. In a re-jigged back-row, Kevin McLaughlin packs down at blindside instead of Sean O'Brien who moves to openside ahead of Shane Jennings who drops to the bench. The changes mean coach Joe Schmidt has opted for the same starting XV that saw off Toulouse in the semi-finals.
Northampton - Player to Watch: Rampaging loose-head Soane Tonga'uiha has been a major driving force for Northampton this season and as the bedrock of the Saints main weapon he poses the biggest threat to Leinster's title hopes.
Northampton - Team News: Paul Diggin reclaims his place on the left wing in the only change to the squad that were beaten by Leicester last weekend with Bruce Reihana dropping out. As a result the Saints field the same 23 that accounted for Perpignan in the semi-finals. Flanker Tom Wood is the major absentee having failed to recover from a leg fracture that has sidelined him
Key Battle: The contrast between the sides through the 10-12-13 axis looks as though it could decide the contest. Leinster boast the proven international calibre of fly-half Jonathan Sexton and the centre duo of Gordon D'Arcy and Brian O'Driscoll while Saints have the admirable but as yet uncapped trio of Stephen Myler, James Downey and Jon Clarke.
Trivia: Since the introduction of the home and away format in 1997-98 none of the other clubs to have won all their pool matches - Leinster (twice), London Wasps, Bath Rugby, Biarritz Olympique, Scarlets and Cardiff Blues - have gone on to make it nine from nine and lift the trophy.
Stats: This will be the third tournament meeting between the sides, Leinster winning both previous encounters in the 2000-01 Pool stages, 40-31 in Dublin and 14-8 in Northampton.
"Maybe our route to the Heineken Cup Final was a tough route and an opportunity to get some really good preparation. But they played Leicester this weekend. That will be some real good preparation to ease their way into a Heineken Cup Final." - Leinster boss Joe Schmidt
"We certainly have plenty of respect for their achievements and for the players and coaches. But we are not going to Cardiff just to make up the numbers. For us, tomorrow's game is the last of a long season and represents the last opportunity for us to bring home some silverware." - Saints director of rugby Jim Mallinder
Prediction: In this season's competition, Leinster have accounted for the top two sides in the Aviva Premiership in Leicester and Saracens as well as three of the four semi-finalists in the Top 14 play-offs in the form of Toulouse, Racing Metro and Clermont Auvergne - and in that kind of form it is difficult to see a Saints side lacking depth derailing their bid for a second Heineken Cup crown.
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