Wednesday 29 March 2017

Cheika backing 'fearsome' Leinster for victory

Hugh Farrelly

Former coach Michael Cheika believes "fearsome" Leinster have what it takes to land their second Heineken Cup title when they face Northampton in Cardiff this weekend.

Cheika, who guided Leinster to their first Heineken Cup in 2009 and is chasing his own European double when his Stade Francais side take on Harlequins in the Challenge Cup decider on Friday night, believes his old side have developed new skills under his successor Joe Schmidt and have what it takes to lift the trophy on Saturday.

"It was a brilliant decision to pick Joe," said Cheika. "I think they'll win the final. They're a year older, they've new skills.

"Credit to the club because they did a lot of research and took a lot of time to decide who'd be the new coach.

"They're playing a great brand of rugby and they still have that fearsome reputation," added Cheika, who admitted it was tough leaving Leinster at the end of last season.

"Like splitting up with a girlfriend ... because they were the only team I've known for five years. It was hard watching them. The new coach has focused on skill sets and he's done a wonderful job."

Leinster are hoping to have more than 30,000 supporters in the Millennium Stadium, with tickets being snapped up all over the continent. Leinster's allocation of 7,500 have been sold, and they are expecting at least 15,000 to travel over from Ireland, with thousands of ex-pats from around Europe also due to attend.

The organisers are confident of an overall attendance of 70,000-plus in the 74,500-capacity stadium, which would comfortably exceed the 66,523 that saw Leinster defeat Leicester at Murrayfield two years ago.

Meanwhile, Northampton wing Chris Ashton has revealed he will have knee surgery four days after the final to be ready for England's World Cup campaign in September.

"I think it is just a clean-up job," said the 24-year-old. "Hopefully there's not too much to it."

Leicester centre Manu Tuilagi was cited yesterday for punching Ashton in Saturday's English Premiership semi-final victory and faces a lengthy ban if found guilty.

Irish Independent

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