19th May 2012 01:10
One of the biggest occasions in Irish rugby history will take place at Twickenham later today as provincial rivals Leinster and Ulster battle it out to be crowned Heineken Cup champions for the 2011/12 season.
LEINSTER v ULSTER, Twickenham, 5pm (live Sky Sports 3/HD3/RTÉ Radio 1/BBC Radio Ulster/Newstalk/highlights TG4)
Team News: The Leinster team to face Ulster in Saturday’s historic all-Irish Heineken Cup final at Twickenham has been named.
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Head coach Joe Schmidt has made three changes in personnel as the province bid to retain their European crown and become Heineken Cup champions for the third time in four years.
From the side that started the 19-15 semi-final victory over Clermont Auvergne, the injured Luke Fitzgerald (neck) makes way for Fergus McFadden with Isa Nacewa wearing the number 11 jersey this time.
Eoin Reddan has been preferred to Isaac Boss at scrum half, while Kevin McLaughlin will take on the blindside flanker role with Sean O’Brien selected at openside. Shane Jennings drops to the replacements.
Leo Cullen leads the province and he starts in the second row alongside Brad Thorn, with McLaughlin joining his Ireland colleagues Jamie Heaslip and O’Brien in a strong back row.
Cian Healy starts in the front row alongside Richardt Strauss and Mike Ross, who makes his 65th appearance for the province.
Reddan links up with Jonathan Sexton at half-back, while the brilliant tandem of Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy will resume their centre partnership.
O’Driscoll is fit to play after undergoing keyhole surgery on knee cartilage damage last Friday and D’Arcy, whose 86th European appearance makes him the joint fifth most-capped Heineken Cup player, has recovered from the facial injury he suffered against Glasgow Warriors last weekend.
Rob Kearney, who has scored six tries in eight Heineken Cup games so far this season, has shaken off a back injury to take his place in the back-three alongside McFadden and Nacewa.
Speaking after the Captain’s Run at Twickenham, Schmidt said: “Brian didn’t train today, but Rob had a run. He’s feeling fairly comfortable and we are confident he will be out there with Brian.
“It is pretty much 100% they will both be playing and there is no medical reason whey they can’t. Brian hasn’t had a reaction to the knee operation and the presumption is he will play a full part – and that is certainly his presumption.”
Meanwhile, John Afoa and Chris Henry are back in the Ulster starting line-up for the interprovincial derby which will be played in front of a capacity 82,000 attendance.
Afoa was suspended for four matches for a dangerous tackle on Munster’s Felix Jones during Ulster’s Heineken Cup quarter-final win, while Henry missed the semi-final against Edinburgh due to an ankle injury.
Both forwards are now back in the starting pack with Declan Fitzpatrick and Willie Faloon dropping to the replacements bench. They are the only two changes to the side that beat Edinburgh 22-19 at the Aviva Stadium.
Youngster Paddy Jackson, the current Ireland Under-20 captain, retains the out-half jersey with Ian Humphreys kept in reserve.
Previewing the all-Irish decider, experienced winger Andrew Trimble said: “Saturday means the world (to us). We’ve come this far and now we just want to finish it off. It means the world to everybody.
“I remember when we were coming out of the hotel on the way to the Aviva Stadium for the semi-final against Edinburgh, the support there was for us was unbelievable.
“I’ve had that many times with Ireland but when you get that with Ulster, the team you’ve played with and supported for so long and when you’ve got such an affiliation with all the supporters, it just means so much to you.
“To see the streets covered in white meant the world, and that’s the same for everybody at Ulster Rugby.
“I’ve always been an Ulster supporter and I’ve always followed them in the Heineken Cup. I’ve been at Ravenhill basically my whole life.
“I watched the Heineken Cup final win in 1999 and now I’ve been playing for Ulster for seven years. I’ve spent not just my entire career, but also my entire life, supporting Ulster Rugby.
“I went down to the ’99 final at Lansdowne Road. I was 15 so I don’t remember too much about it – we didn’t play too much rugby but it was one of those days where we squeezed out a result. The whole place was filled with white and it was a pretty special day.”
The Ireland international added: “There’s a massive amount riding on this game. There’s such a rivalry between the Irish provinces – you’ve seen it between Leinster and Munster for so long now. Fortunately over the last couple of years we’ve come on further and further and now we’re competing for silverware.
“The fact that we’re going after Leinster and Munster is something they should be flattered by. We’re motivated by jealousy, to be honest.
“We want to leapfrog Munster and leapfrog Leinster and be considered the number one Irish province. It’s not something that happens overnight.
“We’ve put an awful lot of hard work in over the last few years and there’s no event like the Heineken Cup final to make a claim for that status.
“We’ve got an opportunity this Saturday and we don’t want to let it slip. You just don’t know when the next Heineken Cup final appearance will be.”
LEINSTER: Rob Kearney; Fergus McFadden, Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Isa Nacewa; Jonathan Sexton, Eoin Reddan; Cian Healy, Richardt Strauss, Mike Ross, Leo Cullen (capt), Brad Thorn, Kevin McLaughlin, Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip.
Replacements: Sean Cronin, Heinke van der Merwe, Nathan White, Devin Toner, Shane Jennings, Isaac Boss, Ian Madigan, David Kearney.
ULSTER: Stefan Terblanche; Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Paddy Wallace, Craig Gilroy; Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar; Tom Court, Rory Best, John Afoa, Johann Muller (capt), Dan Tuohy, Stephen Ferris, Chris Henry, Pedrie Wannenburg.
Replacements: Nigel Brady, Paddy McAllister, Declan Fitzpatrick, Lewis Stevenson, Willie Faloon, Paul Marshall, Ian Humphreys, Adam D’Arcy.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Romain Poite, Jerome Garces (both France)
Television Match Official: Jim Yuille (Scotland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Leinster to win: 2/7; Draw: 22/1; Ulster to win: 3/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Joe Schmidt (Leinster) – “We can’t let a team with that kicking ability, with Ruan Pienaar, Ian Humphreys or Paddy Jackson and Stefan Terblanche in their ranks, get a lead like (the one Northampton achieved in last year’s final).
“Ulster are a team that can keep you under pressure because of their kicking game and they can also exert pressure on your platforms.
“John Afoa, Tom Court and Rory Best have done a great job for them in the front row; Johann Muller calls the lineouts and Stephen Ferris and Pedrie Wannenburg both add a lot. If we allow them to get a good start and build a lead it will be a pretty tough job for us to get back into the game.
“We were favourites going into last year’s final and that didn’t help – there is comfort in being the underdog. Last year I felt we tried a little bit too hard and got out of our routines and hurt ourselves to a degree. We need to be process focused on Saturday.
“The team that keeps their patience and keeps their cool will come out on top. The occasion can sometimes dominate the performance.
“We need to stay focused and not get carried away with the occasion. That’s a danger for any player
“I was pretty depressed at half-time in Cardiff and I don’t want to be in that situation again. But if you can’t live with the pressure of having the favourites’ tag then you don’t deserve to be where you are.”
Brian McLaughlin (Ulster) – “Saturday will be the pinnacle of my rugby career so far and I have no doubts that the Ulster side will show everyone in Europe what a quality team they are.
“We have had a great competition. The Leicester Tigers game at home gave us great confidence and then the experience in Clermont allowed us to soak up the big match atmosphere and get us ready for the trip to Thomond Park.
“It was a great feeling to go to Limerick and beat Munster and then we were able to play in front of our own fans in Dublin against Edinburgh. Now we just can’t wait to get on to the pitch at Twickenham and show everyone what we can do.
“It has been a while since both teams have been at full strength against each other and it should be a great occasion. It is going to be a record crowd for a Heineken Cup final, the biggest crowd an Ulster team has ever played in front of – it’s great to be a part of things like that.
“The battle at the breakdown is going to be crucial and we’ll have to see how Nigel Owens referees that phase of the game and adapt as we get into the game. Leinster are very good at slowing things down.
“We need to take the points when they are on offer to us and put away our chances. We did that against Leicester at Ravenhill, Munster at Thomond Park and Edinburgh at the Aviva. We must do the same at Twickenham.”
Current Form – Leinster – (RaboDirect PRO12): Lost 27-3 away to the Ospreys; Won 31-10 at home to the Newport Gwent Dragons; Lost 23-19 at home to Glasgow Warriors; Won 15-10 away to the Scarlets; Won 26-7 at home to Aironi Rugby; Won 30-20 at home to Connacht; Won 36-28 away to Edinburgh; Won 24-19 at home to Munster; (Heineken Cup): Drew 16-16 with Montpellier; Won 38-13 at home to Glasgow Warriors; (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 30-20 away to Benetton Treviso; Won 52-9 at home to the Cardiff Blues; (Heineken Cup): Won 18-13 away to Bath; Won 52-27 at home to Bath; (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 42-13 at home to Ulster; Won 15-13 away to Connacht; Won 23-19 away to Cardiff Blues; (Heineken Cup): Won 23-16 away to Glasgow Warriors; Won 25-3 at home to Montpellier; (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 42-8 at home to Benetton Treviso; Won 16-13 at home to the Scarlets; Drew 10-10 away to Glasgow Warriors; Won 22-6 away to Aironi Rugby; Lost 23-22 at home to the Ospreys; Won 18-9 away to Munster; (Heineken Cup quarter-final): Won 34-3 at home to the Cardiff Blues; (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 54-13 at home to Edinburgh; Won 16-8 away to Ulster; (Heineken Cup semi-final): Won 19-15 away to Clermont Auvergne; (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 22-18 away to the Newport Gwent Dragons; (RaboDirect PRO12 semi-final): Won 19-15 at home to Glasgow Warriors
Ulster – (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 28-14 at home to Glasgow Warriors; Won 25-19 away to Aironi Rugby; Won 20-3 at home to the Cardiff Blues; Lost 32-14 away to the Ospreys; Lost 22-9 away to the Newport Gwent Dragons; Lost 23-12 at home to Benetton Treviso; Lost 24-17 away to the Scarlets; Won 22-3 at home to Connacht; (Heineken Cup): Won 16-11 at home to Clermont Auvergne; Lost 20-9 away to Leicester Tigers; (RaboDirect PRO12): Lost 17-9 away to Glasgow Warriors; Won 24-17 at home to the Scarlets; (Heineken Cup): Won 31-10 at home to Aironi Rugby; Won 46-20 away to Aironi Rugby; (RaboDirect PRO12): Lost 42-13 away to Leinster; Won 33-17 at home to Munster; Won 42-20 away to Edinburgh; (Heineken Cup): Won 41-7 at home to Leicester Tigers; Lost 19-15 away to Clermont Auvergne; (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 30-12 at home to the Newport Gwent Dragons; Lost 21-14 away to the Cardiff Blues; Won 15-14 at home to the Ospreys; Won 38-16 at home to Edinburgh; Won 27-23 away to Benetton Treviso; Won 45-7 at home to Aironi Rugby; (Heineken Cup quarter-final): Won 22-16 away to Munster; (RaboDirect PRO12): Lost 26-21 away to Connacht; Lost 16-8 at home to Leinster; (Heineken Cup semi-final): Won 22-19 at home to Edinburgh; (RaboDirect PRO12): Lost 36-8 away to Munster
Top Scorers – 2011/12 Heineken Cup: Leinster – Points: Jonathan Sexton 88; Tries: Rob Kearney 6; Ulster – Points: Ruan Pienaar 71; Tries: Andrew Trimble 4
Previous European Meetings: 0
Heineken Cup Records:
2009/10: Reached the semi-finals
2007/08: Failed to qualify from Pool 6
2006/07: Reached the quarter-finals
2005/06: Reached the semi-finals
2004/05: Reached the quarter-finals
2003/04: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
2002/03: Reached the semi-finals
2001/02: Reached the quarter-finals
2000/01: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
1999/00: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
1998/99: Failed to qualify from Pool A
1997/98: Failed to qualify from Pool A
1996/97: Failed to qualify from Pool B
1995/96: Reached the semi-finals
2010/11: Reached the quarter-finals
2009/10: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2008/09: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2007/08: Failed to qualify from Pool 2
2006/07: Failed to qualify from Pool 5
2005/06: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2004/05: Failed to qualify from Pool 6
2003/04: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
2002/03: Failed to qualify from Pool 6
2001/02: Failed to qualify from Pool 2
2000/01: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
1999/00: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
1997/98: Failed to qualify from Pool B
1996/97: Failed to qualify from Pool C
1995/96: Failed to qualify from Pool B