Do Leinster have too much experience at this level for Northampton?
Where will the game be won and lost?
What do Leinster need to do to win?
Who will win?
They certainly have the benefit of having been in the final two years ago so they should know what to expect. In that respect, experience is well and truly on their side as Northampton haven't been in a Heineken final since 2000. Leinster also have the advantage of experienced players in the right positions. Guys like Brian O'Driscoll, Gordon D'Arcy, Shane Horgan and Jamie Heaslip have played Test match rugby and also Lions rugby. Jonathan Sexton is a quality player. They are littered with players with a lot of game experience and they have a lot of leadership potential in those positions.
In major games in any competition, your ability to re-start the game efficiently, to defend and to disrupt the flow of the opposition attack are all essential qualities. But then, both sides can do that and Northampton have been excellent in the last two seasons, the way they have progressed as a side and as a club. They have quality coaching and they will be very difficult to upset.
Obviously, they have to get their setpieces right from the start, those are the core elements. But they also have to get momentum on the gain line through defence or attack. Leinster's high pace, high intensity game will serve them well as long as they have a platform up front off which they can play. That has put them at the top of the tree.
It is really difficult to forecast this game, for both sides could get a result. I have been impressed with Northampton. We understood the threat they posed, having played (and beaten) them in the quarter-final last year. I think they will be really tough to beat. However, on straight form on their pathway to the final, you would probably choose Leinster.
That's difficult to say because Northampton have played in Premiership finals, LV= Cup finals and such like. So that gives them some good experience because they are all one-off events. They have not lost in the Heineken Cup this year so they are a really tough side to beat. But Leinster have a great pack of forwards and a brilliant back line that can finish and score tries from anywhere on the field.
Every single game is won up front. Northampton have one of the most effective scrums in Europe right now and a great lineout. Their forwards can dominate any pack. But if there is one team that can stand up to them it's Leinster. They have a good scrum and lineout and great loose forwards. Of course, Northampton scrummage illegally but they've done it all year and got away with it. Hartley stands up at almost every scrum and Mujati scrummages underneath the opposition hooker. That's illegal but if referees let them get away it, good luck to them.
They need to do what they have done all year. Their loose forwards, especially Seán O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip, get to the breakdown and slow down opposition ball. They have been brilliant at that. If they can hold together well up front and scrummage well, I believe they have the back line to score tries. But it will be incredibly close because Northampton have a back three to score tries from all over.
Tough to say, so much will depend on the day. But I will back Leinster . . . just.
If the game were being played in Dublin, I think there would be no doubt about the result. Leinster have so much experience. They are a much bigger, harder team to negotiate at home. But in Cardiff, I think they could stumble against Northampton, because the English side are very hard to negotiate.
If Leinster can unsettle the 9-10 combination of Northampton and in doing so, stop the transition from forwards to backs and thereby take out the very fast and well performing Northampton back three, that is where the game will be won or lost. It will be well balanced up front although Northampton may have a slight advantage at scrum time. Leinster should have an advantage at the rucks but it could well come down to their ability to isolate the Northampton forwards from their backs.
Leinster is a team that performs very well defensively in their own 22 and very well attacking wise in the opposition 22. The number of times they score when they get into their opponents' 22 is very high. Northampton will have to defend like hell and stop them scoring on those visits. On the other side of the coin, Northampton are tough and have strangled teams up front this season and denied them much possession. Leinster will have to work hard to deny them that advantage.
If Leinster keep their flow, win at ruck time and their scrum holds, they have the players behind in guys like O'Driscoll and D'Arcy to do the job. But it will be a real tight battle.
-- PETER BILLS
Sunday Indo Sport