All roads lead to Cardiff

As Palla Ovale is busy collecting 4-leaf clovers, rabbits feet, horseshoes and wishbones for Cardiff tomorrow, I will take it upon myself to educate him a little on the finer points of the big match, though not in the usual Northampton-have-a-good-scrum-and-don’t-kick-to-Nacewa way.

Northampton
Strengths: Yes, the Saints have a good scrum. Yes, their rucking is controlled and brutally effective mayhem. But why? We think it is down to their phenonemal team spirit and togetherness. Let’s be honest, man for man, the Saints aren’t actually that good (even the Ospreys might trump them on that card), but the collective supremely maximises their resources. Previously unheralded players like Dowson, Dickson, Wilson and Downey are all now key cogs in the machine. Their never-say-die attitude is hugely admirable, most obviously in the quarter-final, when Ulster went in at half-time confident they could close out the game with a bit to spare, but were smashed apart in the second half. Dylan Hartley has matured into a real leader with Johnno-esque qualities, and, but for his accent, would be a potential Lions captain in 2013. For sheer bloody-mindedness and determination, few better Northampton.

Weaknesses: This one is a bit more easy. In a powder-puff pool consisting of Castres, Edinburgh and Cardiff, the Saints only scored 16 tries; the same as the Scarlets, who finished 3rd in a pool with Leicester, Perpignan and Treviso; and 1 less than Munster, whose campaign was nothing short of disastrous. In last weeks Premiership semi-final, the Saints never looked likely to score a try. If your close-in defence holds firm and you track the runs of their dangerous back 3, you can be relatively confident of holding them out. If the scrum/ruck penalties do not accumulate for Northampton, how are they going to score enough points to win?

Leinster


Strengths: If you consider the 10 teams dispatched by Leinster and Northampton so far, there is a pretty coherent argument that the best 5 have all been beaten by Leinster. Toulouse, Leicester, Clermont and Racing Metro are most defintely the best 4 sides of the 10, and the next is a toss-up between Sarries, Ulster and Perpignan. Looking at this on a more granular level, Northampton’s toughest game was against Ulster, who Leinster routinely whack and bag without getting out of third gear. Northampton will need to play better than they have to date against a side far better than anyone they have met to date in order to win. Its a seriously tall order.

Weaknesses: Leinster have huge trust in their defensive system, possibly sometimes too much. In the 2 HEC knock-out games to date, both were still in the melting pot after 80 minutes, despite Leinster being the better side in both cases. Ditto against Ulster in the Magners semi-final, Leinster were not out of sight until Fitzy snuck in with a few minutes to go. Some day, they will be soaking up pressure, buckle, and find themselves with too much to do and not enough time to do it.

There is only one person in the world who could convey how excited we are, so lets leave the final word to Barnesy:

“Oooooooooooooooooooooooooooohhhhhh”

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