A thrilling finale
May 23, 2012
Saracens lifted the Aviva Premiership title last year, but will it be Quins or Tigers this season? © Getty Images
I really hope the final repeats the epic we saw at the Stoop a few weeks ago when the Tigers downed Quins 43-33. It has the potential to be even better than last year's showpiece between Leicester and Saracens, but that was a very different game. It was a defensive final with Sarries going from panic to ecstasy in a matter of moments. This year should be more expansive with glimpses of brilliance and individual skill, but not as one-sided as last Saturday's Heineken Cup final.
The teams are neck and neck in terms of quality, but there's one area which could decide the game - the back three. Leicester have got better options out wide in Agulla and Manu Tuilagi and whoever Harlequins opt for on the wing, whether it's Tom Williams, Sam Smith or if Ugo Monye's fit, will have a very tough match. If Leicester have the ability to go wide as we saw in that match at the Stoop then they have the ability to really cause some damage.
Stuart Lancaster will be interested by a few of the battles on show, no more so than by the front-row tussle between Joe Marler and Dan Cole. We know what Cole can do, we saw what he did to Ireland at Twickenham so Marler needs to be on his A game and it could be a big deciding factor in the way this match goes. If Cole gets the upper hand over Marler and if he starts to lose his cool, as he does in the past when he's been dominated by someone like Carlos Nieto, then he loses focus. When Marler's on top of his game he's probably the best loose-head in England so that's a big question for him to answer.
Tuilagi also has a point to prove after he missed last year's final after punching Chris Ashton in the semis but he's not the only one on the field with added incentive. His brother Alesana will want to go out with a blast in his last match for the Tigers while Quins' No. 8 Nick Easter will want to show that he is still capable of international-level rugby.
The back-row is also going to be key and Harlequins play well when they get on the front foot and win easy ball at ruck time. The difficulty they'll have is that if Leicester go for Newby or Salvi, then they have two of the best opensides in the Premiership at slowing the ball down. But if Quins get on the front foot and get their forwards going through the gainline to play their offloading game then it is very hard to stop them.
There's going to be key match-ups all over the field and another eye-catching one is the battle between Leicester's Ben Youngs and Harlequins' Danny Care at scrum-half. I think Care may just get the edge there as when he's playing well and upping the tempo then he looks very strong. Karl Dickson is pressing him at Quins while Youngs doesn't really have much competition at Leicester so for me, Care is sharper at the moment.
But one worry for Leicester has been the fitness of fly-half Toby Flood. However, I think that George Ford playing for the Tigers is actually a good thing. He offers that little bit more in taking his side forward but Quins will target him and look to apply pressure so it should give a big indication of Ford's future. His temperament is way beyond his years and he already seems experienced so he is a very special player.
The only place you can watch the final live is on ESPN but one warning for all the parents out there, Ben Kay will be in 3D if you go for that option. He's pretty scary in 2D so if he's in 3D then he's going to put a lot of kids off their dinner. But we've got the usual coverage and watching ESPN is like watching the game in the pubs with your mates, we go into detail where needed and also have a laugh.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Austin Healey is Lead Analyst for ESPN Rugby
ESPN looks at the forthcoming season of the Guinness PRO12 and assesses how each of the 12 teams will do
"Like the Treaty of Versailles, despite all the promises, the new Participation Agreement is certainly not the final solution." John Taylor writes
"We know where we are going and we know where we want to get but how long that will take is anybody's guess." David Humphreys on his plans for Gloucester
Jim Mallinder and Justin Burnell were sat on the same top table, but in different circumstances. Tom Hamilton reports on the Aviva Premiership season launch