Once the celebrations start to die down after the Amlin Challenge Cup Final, Cardiff has to start bracing itself for The Big One as Leinster and Northampton Saints go head to head at the Millennium Stadium for the Heineken Cup, which basically means they win Europe. All of it. Even Belgium.
After the disappointment suffered at Welford Road in their Aviva Premiership Semi Final, Northampton Saints will be coming into this game with their honour on the line. As with Stade Francais on Friday, the Saints have a tendency to come into their own when there is a whiff of that test match atmosphere in the air as it will be here, and with a wound to nurse, they’re going to be on the attack.
Leinster have a massive fortnight coming up, not only have they made it to this final, but the following week they meet arch-rivals Munster to compete for the Magners League trophy. As such Leinster have gone into this game as such hot favourites that one bookmaker has apparently already started paying out on bets made for Leinster to win earlier in the competition (though that bookmaker is, ahem, a bit Irish). However, with the world seemingly at their feet, and with some players who are moving on almost expecting to go out in a high, we could see a Leinster that are so cock sure as to underestimate the opposition.
What will be interesting, is if this takes on an air of the grudge match, with some of England’s Six Nations orchestrators coming face to face with some of the Irishmen who broke their Grand Slam dream back in March. The interesting battles on the field will largely be based in the backs section, especially with golden boy Ash the Splash (who is possibly still concussed from Manugate) having the ‘talismanic’ (yawn) BOD (who may or may not still be nursing a niggle) to contend with mid field. Although there is also the prospect of Courtney Lawes taking on Scot-Aussie Nathan Hines in the second row to keep pack animals entertained.
Our gut says Leinster will probably lift the trophy for the second time in three years, but our head knows you should never underestimate the Saints…
One to Watch: Chris Ashton. Well, you never quite know when he’s going to let out a bit of genius, do you?
One to perv on during Stoppage time: Nathan Hines. Last chance to take in his form on British soil before he joins the exodous to France…
Words by Lauren