BOD’s injury was clearing up, but he was running the risk of an ASBO with that hoodie
It’s all about 2.
It’s the number of Heineken Cups the winning side will have after Saturday’s showdown.
It’s the number of Manu Tuilagis Chris Ashton was seeing in the Aviva Premiership semi-final.
It’s also the number of legs Brian O’Driscoll would like to have in operation heading into the final and right now, it’s not a guarantee. The Leinster talisman has been struggling with a knee injury and has sat out training this week, which isn’t ideal preparation but nothing is likely to prevent him hauling his bones onto the pitch for a game of such importance. This is the man who gave up an invite to the Royal Wedding and a crack at Pippa Middleton for the cause, so a pesky banjaxed limb isn’t likely to stop him. Leinster have defied a Group of Death, the English champions and the French aristocrats and with 80 minutes to go, there’s also 2 chances BOD will miss the game – slim and none.
It’s been an eye-catching route to the final for the 2009 champs. They’ve progressed without the luxury of the virtual freebie that is taking on an Italian side or the actual freebie that is taking on a Scottish side. They’ve also avoided the Welsh teams, although this season the most difficult test you’re likely to get on Welsh soil is an uncomfortable grilling at Cardiff International passport control. Northampton have gone one better – reaching the final without tasting the bitter sting of defeat. That impressive stat should be qualified with the fact that they were drawn in the weakest group we’ve seen since the Annual Anaemics Conference. Since then they’ve done everything that’s been asked of them in the knockout phase. In fairness, as the old cliché goes ‘you can only beat what’s put in front of you’ but they reach the decider with the suspicion that they’ve had an easier passage than terrorists through Pakistan.
The nagging doubt is that this is an Irish side against a dastardly English side in a one-off game. You remember the English don’t you? They’re the ones that inflicted such horrors as Penal Laws, the Famine and – perhaps worst of all – The Only Way Is Essex on us. They’re always the baddie in the panto and the pure, angelic Irish team need to be on the lookout for the Big Bad Neil Back character sneaking up behind you. They’ll bend, twist, break and occasionally piss on the rules if it moves them closer to victory and there’s a concern that their evil ways will deny the perfectly innocent Irish team victory. Of course that point of view conveniently overlooks the fact Leinster and the other Irish teams will do exactly the same, but to admit that would be to give up the ride on our lofty high horse.
Behind the brute force and cheating of their pack, they’ve actually got some players capable of playing rugby – the part of the game that’s not all reset scrums and ‘roll a six to start’ refereeing. They’ve got some exciting talent in the backs – so much so that the Ginger Michalak, Shane Geraghty (you’re not fooling anyone with that bleach job, Shane) is generally consigned to bench-warming duties. Chris Ashton is cited as the main danger, but in reality the greatest threat he poses may be to himself. Picking a fight with Manu Tuilagi was probably the most ill-advised decision we’ve seen on a rugby pitch since Brian O’Driscoll decided to respond to the Haka seconds before his Lions Tour ended in 2005. Ben Foden is the other high profile threat, but he’ll be a marked man. You can’t bag one of Ireland’s few pop starlets and expect to get away with it. After B*Witched and the whiny one from Girls Aloud (probably should narrow it down really), we basically need to start counting Enya which shows just how thin on the ground they are. If a Heineken Cup medal doesn’t motivate a Leinster player, then smashing the guy who stole our Saturday probably will.
So, how is the game likely to go? Leinster are favourites and across the pitch you have to think they have the stronger XV – but it’s a final so everybody is a bit cautious about admitting it. A lot of the team took part in the 2009 triumph so theoretically at least, big occasion nerves shouldn’t be a problem. There is some hope for Northampton. There are times when Leinster can look rudderless, lateral and display all the ball-handling skills of an England goalkeeper. They’ll need to capitalise on these periods of struggle because when it clicks into gear it’s hard to stop. The metronomic place-kicking of Stephen Myler will be crucial in punishing Leinster if the frustration boils over to indiscipline and penalties.
The odds say it’s Leinster’s to lose, but – as history has told us – against these English sides, you wouldn’t want to be getting 2 cocky.