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Bernard Jackman: Skin and hair will fly as two best teams in Europe go head to head

The scene is set. The weather forecast is good -- dry and with temperatures in the mid-to-high teens from Thursday onwards -- and the Aviva Stadium has been sold out for weeks.

The two best teams in Europe collide in the Heineken Cup quarter-finals this Saturday when the Leicester Tigers come here to play Leinster.

This will be the battle of all battles.

The winner of this match gets a home semi-final -- a huge advantage -- and with the final in Cardiff, it will be hard for a French team to win it this year -- given their weakness playing away from home.

Three weeks ago we saw a much-vaunted England team come over and leave with their tails between their legs. But unfortunately Leicester are much tougher than Martin Johnson's outfit.


They are tougher mentally for starters.

They have a great record of winning trophies -- three of the last four Premiership trophies have ended up at Welford Road -- and, more importantly, they have a proud record in Europe, winning the Heineken Cup twice.

This season they lead the Premiership, with 13 more tries than their nearest rivals.

For a team that is built on brute force, power and physical intimidation, they are playing an attacking brand of rugby with an offloading game that is similar to Leinster's.

They will battle to win the scrum battle, with the Italian Castrogiovanni and English test prop Dan Cole, two world-class operators, but Leinster have been brilliant in this area this season and I don't expect them to get any advantage here.

They usually bring on Argentinian loose head Marcus Ayerza, but he is suspended for fighting against Harlequins at the weekend, a big blow indeed.

Their half-backs, Toby Flood and Ben Youngs, are dangerous and will have learned from their horror show in the loss to Ireland, while the Tuilagi brothers will be the latest bruisers to try and run over the D'Arcy and O'Driscoll partnership.

Leinster will need to hit the ice baths and the massage tables regularly this week to try and recover from what was a marvelous but hugely physical game in Thomond Park on Saturday evening, when they lost to Munster 24-23 in the Magners League clash.

The atmosphere and intensity was of the highest standard and will have Leinster spot on for this week.

Even though you never like to lose, I believe that it will help Leinster get mentally right for this challenge.

Leinster will take confidence from how miserly their defence was again, and how they executed the game-plan so accurately in the first half.


The quarter-final stage is often the hardest for the Irish teams because they come two weeks after the conclusion of the Six Nations.

This doesn't allow much elbow room for rebuilding cohesion and team work.

It is interesting that the Leinster management felt the need to bring the squad down to Enfield for a training camp last week to get everyone on the same page for this game, without any unnecessary distractions.

The Leinster players will have taken stock of how they allowed the Munster forwards to get over the gain line around the fringes in the second half and will be prepared and ready for this tactic when the Tigers employ it.

When we beat Leicester in the Heineken Cup final in 2009 we did it by commiting players to every breakdown on attack and defence.


Rocky Elsom provided us with the momentum, with some huge tackles and powerful carries throughout and won the man of the match award.

With Rocky back in Australia the scene is set for another Leinster player to stand up and take the game by the scruff of the neck and drive his team forward. With a team like Leicester you can be sure that they won't be fazed by the atmosphere -- and that they will perform.

We can certainly look forward to seeing skin and hair flying, with Leinster to just edge it.