European Rugby Cup Predictions 2012: The Finals
This weekend sees the denouement of the greatest club rugby tournament in the Northern Hemipshere (and the world?), and here are my predictions for the two finals.
Amlin Challenge Cup Final: Toulon v Biarritz
First, Toulon and Biarritz will fight it out at The Stoop for the Amlin Challenge Cup trophy as the hors d’oeuvres to the main course on Saturday.
Jonny Wilkinson will have the English crowd cheering for Toulon, and I think he’ll guide them to the win. Their ferocious pack ought to be enough to match Biarritz, and I think they have more to offer in the backline.
League form in the Top 14 supports my hunch, with Toulon in 3rd and Biarritz in 9th, but anything can happen in a final. Biarritz are always strong up front and won’t be easy to beat, but Jonny should see Toulon home. Toulon by 6.
Heineken Cup Final: Leinster v Ulster
From an all-French final in the Amlin to an all-Irish final in the Heineken on Saturday at Twickenham, with Leinster looking to make it back-to-back triumphs.
The reigning champions are clear favourites to win their third title in four years, and it seems many people are writing off any chance that Ulster might have.
I’m not so sure – I didn’t expect them to win at Thomond Park, but they came through that test looking like champions, and let’s not forget their 40-point drubbing of Leicester Tigers in the group stages. Chris Henry and Stephen Ferris in the back row could be the key to their chances, and if they can stifle possession to the Leinster backline, Ulster can win.
Leinster has named Rob Kearney and Brian O’Driscoll in their starting side, with both overcoming injury. If those two had been missing, you might start to think it could be Ulster’s day, and whilst it still could, it’s difficult to look past Leinster.
Their semi-final win in Clermont Auvergne was particularly impressive, and this close to glory, facing a familiar foe, they ought to have enough to cross the finish line. Leinster by 5.
I should say that I’ve actually gone for Ulster by 3 on SportGuru, and that result would win me the office pool, and I don’t think the game as clear cut as some people think.