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Hard road gives Michael's edge

Clongowes Wood College v St Michael's College, The RDS, Sunday 3.30 ( Setanta Ireland)

It has come down to this. The Leinster Schools Senior Cup will reach a fitting climax on Sunday when the pre-tournament joint favourites will contest the final safe in the knowledge that they have earned the right to be there.

St Michael's Ireland U18 Schools outside centre Rory O'Loughlin is expected to recover from injury in time. It is just as well. The three-quarter line does not bring the same cutting edge without their greatest individual threat.

O'Loughlin has the happy knack of being a match winner, whether it means moving into the right place at the right time or producing a gold-dust moment that can unhinge any defence.

It should also allow Rory Kavanagh to return to the wing where he is a danger, while Ireland Schools fly-half Bobby Holland operates at inside centre as a clever distributor. Fly-half Ross Byrne is a sure goal-kicker.

The challengers also have the single best player in the competition in their captain, Dan Leavy, a sure-fire professional player of the near future, and the most effective back row, with number eight Donagh Lawlor bringing his considerable weight to any argument.

In fact, the St Michael's pack is a super-sized unit all through from tight-head Jamie Lawless to Lawlor. They certainly have the capacity to compete with and trouble Clongowes in the same way that Terenure almost unseated the champions in the semi-final.

What St Michael's may lack is the all-round mobility to deal with the holders' incredibly dynamic front row of the Byrne twins, Edward (pictured below), the captain, and hooker Bryan, and cornerstone Daniel O'Byrne. They will feel the heat in the scrum, a powerful weapon for Clongowes.

It is too simple an equation to reduce this one down to a battle between the champions' front row and the 2010 finalists' back row. The holders looked awesome in their destruction of Belvedere and Castleknock in the first two rounds.

However, Terenure provided the template to corral them. The correct application of the pressure game can upset and undermine any team at any level. Look what England did to France in Paris on Sunday.

Clongowes are pursuing their first ever three-in-a-row and the first for any school since Blackrock in 1964. What they lack in individual sparkle in some areas, they make up for with a cohesiveness and unity of purpose that makes for exciting, high-tempo rugby.

Perhaps, the knee-trembling challenge thrown down by Terenure was exactly what the champions needed after two bloodless victories. It will put them in the right frame of mind, making them battle-hardened.

However, St Michael's have had to go 'toe-to-toe' with Roscrea and Leinster League winners Kilkenny to make the final. The more difficult route might just be the key to a big upset in what is bound to be a tussle to remember.

Verdict: St Michael's.