Well this is it, the last weekend in a long season. I think if earlier this season you were told that it would be these two teams slogging it out in the final, it wouldn’t have come as a huge shock in fairness. Both teams have played well and either one would be a deserving winner. So let’s see who that’ll be:
Reasons to back Ulster
Truth be told, I want Ulster to win this game. I’ve got nothing against Leinster, they are a fantastic team, with world class players and are a credit to Irish rugby. But they’ve won lots of silverware over the years, so winning or losing this game won’t make a huge difference in that sense, but to Ulster a win here would mean the world to them.
They played so well early on this season, even when faced tragedy with the loss of young Mr. Nevin Spence; I imagine he’ll be in the minds of everyone donning the white shirt this weekend, player and supporter alike (allegedly his initials will be embroidered under the Ulster logo on the players’ jerseys for this final game). They came back strong at the end to deservedly take top spot in the league. Having being utterly demolished by Leinster in last season’s Heineken Cup Final that pain will motivate them on here. They want this.
Earlier on this season Ulster named a strong side in their concerted effort to get the ‘Post-Heineken-Cup-Round-4-monkey’ off their backs and finally beat Leinster in that game, having consistently lost to them in the same fixture since 2007. Seeing their faces after that match, you could see what the victory meant for them. They also went on to beat them at the RDS later on this season, their first time ever doing the double over Leinster. They know what it takes to win here and have definitely been planning for this encounter.
Unfortunately for them the improvements to Ravenhill haven’t been completed in time to give them home advantage but even electing to name the RDS (where Leinster’s only home loss this year was to Ulster and where they lost in their last Pro12 Final), might be part of the psychological warfare. The hashtag ‘#ourDS’ has been popping up on Twitter in recent days after an emotion-stirring video was released. A win here would be a fitting end to their season. Leinster may have easily dispatched Stade last weekend in the Amlin but Ulster will be better rested and are made of sterner stuff than the Parisians.
Reasons to back Leinster
In some respects it’s hard to see past a Leinster win on this occasion. They’ve a gifted and determined squad, and effectively have home advantage despite Ulster having top seeding and “home team” designation. And yes, Leinster may have fallen at this hurdle in their last four attempts (to Ospreys three times, and Munster once) but it should be pointed out that on three of those occasions they had played and won in a Heineken Cup Final the weekend previously. That’ll put a strain on any team.
The fact that Leinster played in the Amlin Challenge Cup Final a week prior to this match isn’t remotely comparable. They comfortably demolished Stade in the 1st half of that game last week. At times it looked like training ground exercises. The word everyone was bandying about was ‘clinical’ and it fitted perfectly. They were always in charge in that game even while resting a few big name players. You could see that they were happy to win, but it won’t matter as much to them unless they can complete an historic double of European and domestic silverware in one season.
Losing in the Pro12 final on their last four attempts will be all the motivation they need. Furthermore, this is Nacewa, Sexton and Schmidt’s last game with the team and they’d love to give those guys a great send-off.
Normally when I haven’t seen the teams yet, I ask myself who has home advantage and who wants it more. In this instance it’s confusing to say the least. Coming top of the league and getting ‘home advantage’ has been neutralised here and both teams really want this win but for different reasons. Sean O’Brien and Fergus McFadden are the only major injury worries that I know of (and even SOB’s injury has been the subject of conflicting reports from the Leinster and Lions management). Assuming both teams name sides as close to full strength as possible then on paper and with big match experience you’d have to favour Leinster to win here, but you could also easily back Ulster to win it on sheer passion and determination. It really is tough to call, the head says Leinster but the heart says Ulster.
For my last prediction I’m going to go with the heart over head. Ulster by 2.
Feel free to tell me how wrong (or right) I am in the comments below or on twitter here: @tiptackler
So that’s my last prediction for the 2013-13 RaboPro12 season. I want to thank Hutch and Jamie and everyone at The Rugby Blog for letting me scribble my predictions on their site. In the meantime feel free to join up to some of the other prediction pools I have on SuperBru for the Lions Tour, The June Internationals, and even The Pacific Nations Cup.
By John O’Brien