Nine months of sweat and blood, hard graft week-in week-out, comes down to eighty minutes at Twickenham tomorrow in the Guinness Premiership final.
Whatever your views on the knockout format at the end of the regular league season, the prospect of a winner-takes-all showdown between Leicester Tigers and London Irish is sublime. Undoubtedly two of the best teams this season, and two teams that have certainly been among the most exciting to watch.
After two professional performances in their respective semi-final victories over Bath and Harlequins, both sides will be confident enough that lifting the trophy is within their capabilities, although Leicester start as firm favourites.
Sam Vesty will be pulling the proverbial strings once again, and he is likely to have a strong influence on the outcome of the game. His ability to read the game at fly-half is being hailed by many knowledgeable rugby sorts, and he does seem to choose the right option more often than not in attack.
If Vesty spots a mismatch in the opposition defence, he’ll not hesitate to exploit it, and seeing people out of position, he and Geordan Murphy will kick behind the Irish back three to keep their side on the front foot.
Julien Dupuy is another key player tomorrow, and the head-to-head with Paul Hodgson will be enthralling. Both players are always on the lookout for half a gap, and both have the quick feet and pace to dance through it. Hodgson will need to get the better of his opposite number if Irish are to prevail because the Frenchman has been so influential in recent weeks for the Tigers.
Leicester will be wary of the Irish pack after they demolished Harlequins in the scrum last week. Their lineout strength is also renowned in the Premiership, and the Exiles will pose a significant challenge at the set piece – an area where Leicester usually dominate.
If their pack do get the upper hand, London Irish have their own players capable of controlling the game – not least the ageless warrior Mike Catt. He and Peter Hewat closed out the game against Quins last week with probing kicking for the corners and flawless distribution to the speed men out wide.
If Irish can establish a lead, then they could keep the Tigers quiet, but if they give penalties away early on like they did last week, Leicester won’t be so kind as to miss every kick at goal as Harlequins did. If the Tigers start strongly, I expect them to go on and win it, so the first 20 minutes are going to be crucial.
I cannot wait. Enjoy the game and have a great weekend.
I have just heard that there are still tickets available to the game tomorrow with viagogo – you can buy them up until 2pm, so you really don’t have long!