Tuesday 12 December 2017

Expect it to go down to wire

Quite simply, it's all about Jonny Sexton and Ruan Pienaar. I know I covered them in the semis, but you get drawn back to the guys who decide finals.

They are the men who decide the pace of the game, when to run when to kick, key to the territorial battle, and have the responsibility of taking the points when offered. Imagine talking about an All Black game without talking about Dan Carter? These guys, Pienaar and Sexton, hold as much sway in their respective sides.

Sexton in last year's Heineken Cup final gave the half-time team talk and managed to turn the game around. He called for Liverpool's 'Spirit of Istanbul' and their miracle recovery to snatch the Champions League from AC Milan in 2005. He ended up being named Man of the Match; he was just impeccable.

In the semi-final against Clermont, with his side again behind at half-time, he called the play that would see Cian Healy score. His control of the big games is maturing quickly and his distribution is as good as anyone's.

His control with the boot is now a source of real quality territory and can torment the opposition back three.

Pienaar was utterly brilliant in the semi-final against Edinburgh. His sniping was a rare occurrence, but would shift momentum, his decision-making in relation to when to use forwards and when to release backs is as good as anyone's and his box-kicking is as accurate as a laser.

When it came to scoring points, his lazy swing of the leg brought Munster and then Edinburgh to their knees.

2 Breakdown

In Europe

The Irish are the experts at it on an individual level. From 1 to 15 the Irish team is the best in the northern hemisphere, no doubt about, like 15 limpets moving round a field waiting for a breakdown.

Irish lads are taught to lead with their head, put it in places that should have a health and safety warning and get in over the ball with bodies and boots flying everywhere, as if it was the most natural thing in the world to do.

I always thought they were complete and utter nutcases when playing against them. Two teams full of terriers at the breakdown, who can convince the ref Nigel Owens that they are in charge and they are legal?

3 Gainline

I don't want to be seen to be stating the obvious, but rugby isn't rocket science. There is no point in either side doing anything very different in an all-Ireland Heineken final.

There are some absolute monsters out there. None more so than the two World Cup-winning second rows who come up against each other -- Johann Muller and Brad Thorn.

They are two man mountains who lead the physical onslaught of their sides. We know of the excellence of Isa Nacewa, Rob Kearney, and Brian O'Driscoll for Leinster; we have seen Andrew Trimble, Craig Gilroy and the hugely underrated Darren Cave for Ulster score some quality five-pointers. But all of them would struggle, even the great O'Driscoll, if they were going backwards and facing defensive lines that were coming forward.

Of course, you cannot legislate for individual brilliance, but by and large the team that wins is the one that wins the battle of the gainline, survives the physicality of the hits, finds the well-timed runs on inside shoulders and uses decoys to buy a team-mate a half a yard.

Today will be no different. Win the inches on the gainline and take the yards and metres out wide.

Prediction

This sort of match will always go down to the wire. What you may expect to see happen, what you think will unfold because of what is down on the team-sheet or strategy paper, rarely comes to bear.

With their Heineken Cup-winning pedigree and familiarity with everything that today entails, you might expect Leinster to win by 10. Don't bet your mortgage on it. By the finest of Irish margins, I come down on Leinster's side. Leinster by four. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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