Nobody can argue that Leicester Tigers and London Irish have not earned their places in this year’s Guinness Premiership final.
The two sides have been the most consistent throughout the 9-month season, and have been the team to beat for every other side.
Their respective Directors of Rugby, Richard Cockerill and Toby Booth, have steered their squads through the long and arduous season, coping without several international players apiece, and maintaining their quality right through to a convincing semi-final victory.
Leicester versus Bath was billed as an epic contest between two old rivals, where no love is lost, where nothing would be left on the pitch and any other cliche you can think of. In reality, the game was relatively one-sided as Leicester took a commanding first-half lead, and despite something of a fightback, Bath could not recover.
To be so dominant at the breakdown throughout the game, stealing possession left, right and centre, and then to be able to bring on flanker Lewis Moody shows an incredible strength in depth, and is a mark of the quality squad that Cockerill has fostered.
Later that afternoon, London Irish upset the odds to defeat local rivals Harlequins. To be so effective as to prevent the Home team from scoring a single point is worthy of admiration – granted, the Quins kickers missed several chances, but credit should must to the Irish defence.
Once their lead had been established, the professional manner in which Mike Catt and Peter Hewat kept their foes pinned in their own territory was remarkable, so much so that you almost felt sorry for Dean Richards’ side when they couldn’t escape from the headlock in which they were held.
And so to Twickenham next Saturday. The Tigers will be favourites, but the Exiles proved that favouritism does not always count. Irish will compete in the final for the first time against the Leicester old-timers, and who will win is anyone’s guess. All we know is that it will be an occasion to savour between the two best sides in the country.