Hartley: Battle upfront will be key
May 20, 2011
Northampton's front row of Brian Mujati, Dylan Hartley and Soane Tonga'uiha have been at the forefront of Saints' progress in Europe © Getty Images
Northampton captain Dylan Hartley is braced for a punishing afternoon at the coalface when Saints bid for Heineken Cup glory against Leinster on Saturday.
Saints' revered forward power was showcased when they swept aside semi-final opponents Perpignan three weeks ago. And it is that physical presence of players like Hartley, props Soane Tonga'uiha and Brian Mujati, together with lock Courtney Lawes, which will underpin Northampton's bid for a first Heineken crown since 2000.
Victory at the Millennium Stadium would also see Saints create tournament history as the first team to win it with a 100% record through the pool and knockout stages. But standing in their way are the 2009 European champions, who have beaten Toulouse, Clermont Auvergne, Leicester, Saracens and Racing Metro this term.
England hooker Hartley said: "There was a lot of talk about Perpignan and whether we would get parity up front. In the second half we got a slight nudge on them, but I don't think that will happen this weekend. If we are to dominate them (Leinster) it won't come straight away.
"We have to earn that right, and our mindset is that every ruck and maul is a big one. If that goes well, then so does your carrying game. It transfers to every aspect of your game, but first and foremost it is about scrum-time for me."
Leinster are optimistic their star centre Brian O'Driscoll will be fit to face Saints after going off injured during last week's Magners League play-off win against Ulster. And the Irish challengers will start as favourites against a Northampton side needing to bounce back from seeing its domestic and European double dream destroyed through losing their Aviva Premiership play-off encounter to Leicester five days ago.
But Leinster's Ireland international flanker Sean O'Brien has no intention of underestimating Saints' threat. O'Brien said: "They have strengths all over the field and no real weakness, but I guess their greatest strength is in their front row and pack. They have dominated teams in recent weeks.
"However, their back three are all very elusive and you cannot afford to kick poorly against them as their ability on the counter-attack is a real threat.
"They have been very impressive in becoming the first team to reach a Heineken Cup final unbeaten, and they have had some massive performances to get there, against Ulster and Perpignan in the knockout games in particular.
"But we are playing pretty well and we have hit some good form of late, so we will be focusing on the way we want to play, on individual roles and those of the team."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
The latest Week in Pictures takes in a fiery East Midlands derby and all the action from the Aviva Premiership and Top 14
The rolling maul is becoming an increasingly potent attacking weapon. Conor O'Shea looks at the difficulties of stopping it
The news of James Horwill, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Dan Carter's respective transfers will open the floodgates, writes Tom Hamilton