We’ve laid the groundwork, now we finally go head to head. Egg Chaser’s Ulster vs. Palla Ovale’s Leinster. How’s it going to do. Two nervous, excited bloggers go toe to toe. Have it!
EGG : So – I’m pretty excited – T-24 or thereabouts to kickoff, and T-18 ish until the flights are outta here. The nerves are increasing, but so is the excitement. How are you feeling?
PALLA : I’m getting butterflies. Rumours over the team selection didn’t help. Still not fully soothed either. I can’t see how BOD is fit. Basically I’m like Quinny described himself on wednesday: started out confident but getting more edgy as kick-off approaches
PALLA : And you?
EGG : I can imagine – I think the novelty of it all is positive for Ulster- expectations are low, and having a party is high on the agenda. Leinster fans are presumably feeling deja vu from a confident trip last year followed by a horror start to the game. Ulster are very much basking in it – it’s a good feeling.
PALLA : I can imagine. I’m hoping last year’s first 40 is fresh in the Leinster players’ memories. It is for the fans I think, though there is some bullishness about.
EGG : Very much so. I have yet to talk to a Leinster fan who isn’t sanguine about the match (apart from yourself)
PALLA : I think Ulster fans have genuine belief they can win?
EGG : Hmmm … they do …. I guess this moves us on nicely to what we expect
PALLA : So what’s going to happen?
EGG : Ulster see parallels to last year inLeinster’s build-up. An epic SF against French aristocrats, an unexpectedly difficult Rabo semi-final. Of course, what followed was a very slow start (their worst half of HEC rugby in the Shcmidt era?) – Ulster need to lead from the front, and we feel it might happen.
EGG : And of course, Ulster aren’t as brittle as Northampton! (or so we hope).
PALLA : No, Ulster can withstand a barrage. Saints couldn’t contain Leinster once they lost the tempo. We saw that in Limerick. Ulster did lose control of the match, but they were able to stay in it – just!
EGG : In both games they struggled for control.
PALLA : They did.
EGG : Only 1st quarter vs Munster. And 3rd qurater vs Embra.
PALLA : Against Embra their defence was pretty porous, you could have driven a 46a through the gaps around the fringes.
EGG : In Clermont they got the balance right – they controlled the 2nd and 3rd quarters, and some more.
PALLA : They did.
EGG : Yes – play like that against Leinster and its over. But I think that won’t happen.
PALLA : No it won’t – Ulster will be furiously hungry in this game, and I think Henry won’t allow those sort of gaps to appear.
EGG : No – Henry was the key man in Thomond really, and Faloon wasn’t up to it. It seems odd to say it, but Henry is the best groundhog on the pitch (apart from BOD)
PALLA : I would argue for Heaslip!
EGG : Heaslip has added that to his game this year – he’s been unheralded, but I have been impressed.
PALLA : I won’t expect to see Jamie in the wide channels too much in this game.
EGG : No – most definitely.
PALLA : I think he’ll be tasked with keeping Henry off the ball.
EGG : So – what do you expect from Leinster
PALLA : Well, it will go one of two ways.
EGG : 1. BT2 2. Wagamama?
PALLA : Haha. If Ulster are off their game leinster will look to blast them off the park with tempo. They have obliterated the opposition in 30 minutes in their home games. But let’s face it, it’s more likely to be trench warfare. They will probably feel that if it’ tight after 50-60 mins they have the bench to pull away, in which case they’ll have to be patient
EGG : Flip that 30 minutes on its head, and look at Leinster away games: At half time – were they behind against Ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooohh Bath andMontpellier, level with Glasgae and behind to Clermont?
PALLA : Yeah, correct.
EGG : I think that will be Leinster’s approach. It’s a final, no need to put on a show – Win the match
PALLA : They are very good in the ‘championship minutes’. They will look to do their thing – lots of inside passes, clever offloads, the usual… but need to be patient and not force it!
EGG : They’ll be content, I feel, to bide their time. I expect Ulster to be ahead at half time, but Leinster to be happy if Ulster’s tackle count is 40-50
PALLA : Yeah, that will not worry them!
EGG : So: key men.
PALLA : Ok, for Ulster then…
EGG : This is easy!
PALLA : He’s big. He’s strong. He wears 6 on his back. Warning: following content may contain mancrush. Dude’s unreal, he just manhandles people
EGG : If you see the backrow prominent – Fez slamming tackles behind the gainline; Henry dominating the breakdown; Wannenbosh carrying and getting yards then Ulster are on top. Fez’ sheer size and speed creates holes for the likes of Wannenbosh and Trimble off his wing
PALLA : yes.
EGG : And his tackling!!
PALLA : unreal
EGG : I envisage a Will Genia moment for Redders. Possibly ugly enough to make Deccie drop him in advance.
PALLA : Redders has to make sure he doesn’t get sucked into that.
EGG : He does.
PALLA : We know how hot and cold he can run.
EGG : If the Ulster backrow are prominent, it is going to plan.
PALLA : So Fez is the key man then?
EGG : I’d say all 3.
PALLA : ok.
EGG : They are well-balanced. We *know* Fez will be everywhere, but they need all 3 to be on their game.
PALLA : They weren’t balanced before, but Henry has learned to play 7.
EGG : It’s Shannon rugby from Ulster (without as much pishun obviously) – unless they are chasing the game of course.
PALLA : Of course. So what about Leinster’s key fellow… I cannot see beyond one man.
EGG : Farrelly’s favourite.
PALLA : They call him Johnny 10.
EGG : If Sexton get space and time to do his thing, you would argue Ulster can’t win.
PALLA : I think if the packs come out even-steven Johnny will be able to be the difference just plays with such authority. He has it all. He kicks goals, he’s a huge boot, he’s cranky, he makes tackles, he breaks the line and he’s got the temperament for the big occasion.
EGG : Ironic to say it in a HEC final, but his opposite number should be watching and learning!
PALLA : Let’s hope he doesn’t get too in awe. He won’t though.
EGG : So, on the breaking even up front thing …. who is going to do that? Brad Thorn must be the key.
PALLA : I think Leinster’s pack as a unit is pretty formidable. It’s a rock solid unit. Thorn will be huge in the scrum. But there’s an element of fingers crossed that the lineout holds up.
EGG : It is – it’s more than the sum of its parts. Only Thorn brings as much destructiveness as Fez
PALLA : Although SOB, if they can get him charging at the right people and can cause huge damage
EGG : He can
PALLA : Locky has a big job at lineout time I expect we’ll see him used a lot there
EGG : Yes – neither Leinster hooker is Jocky Wilson with the darts. Locky’s a quick and light fella – he widens the margins for error.
PALLA : He has great skills once he’s up there.
EGG : Now: The verdict. I’ll let you lead!
PALLA : Oooooooooooooohhhh! I’ll be honest, I am confident, I think Leinster will do it. Ulster need to play some rugby to win it, but they’ve left their flair players on the bench. So I think even if they do slow down the ball a bit Leinster will still have too much possession to lose the game.
Leinster by 9.
EGG : Just above the spread – bookies going 8.
EGG : So my dos centavos: I am relaxed, and strangely confident. This mirrors the feeling I had prior to the QF. I think Leinster will start slowly, and Ulster have an opportunity to build a lead. I most certainly agree that 9 man dross won’t suffice – penalties alone won’t do it. Ulster will come out like dervishes, and put everything into it – everything. The championship minutes will decide this – 40-60. Leinster are the masters in Europe of this portion of a game, but Ulster have guys who have won Super Rugby titles with the Bulls – they are the Southern Hemisphere masters of winning big games. Ulster, unlike most underdogs, and certainly unlike the Saints last year, will believe they can win it, in spite of their recent record against Leinster. I foresee iHumph coming in with 15 ish to go and Ulster perhaps replying to the onslaught by running it – giving the forwards a break. I just feel this is Ulster’s moment – they are fiercely driven, under no pressure, and are ready to give their all. They aren’t the best team in Europe, or even inIreland, but then neither wereLeinsterin 2009. This is Ulster’s moment – Ulster by 3.
PALLA : My only concern for Ulster is that their best performance this year was beating Leicester, but they’ve gone away from that template ever since. It’s all a bit South Africa
EGG : Oooooooooooooooooooooooooooohhh! It is the Springbok model – but they win RWCs when they aren’t the best team in the tournament!
PALLA: So we’re both going for our own teams to do the biz. Let me just say: hope it’s a great game and may the best team win
EGG : Absolutely. Neither of us would begrudge the opposition their victory, so let’s (try and) relax and enjoy it! Vamos!