Evan O

Evan O'Callaghan

Heineken Cup Final Preview

Posted by Evan O'Callaghan on 6. May 2011

What: Heineken Cup final (think Champions League, but for rugby)

Who: Leinster (Ireland) v Northampton Saints (England)

Where: Millenium Stadium, Cardiff, Wales

When: Saturday 21st May, 5 pm local time (midnight Beijing time)

Where to watch it in Beijing: Paddy O’Shea’s on Dongzhimen Wai will be showing the match, and it is rumoured that both Pyro Pizza and Laowai’s in Wudaokou will be showing the game as well, although they are unconfirmed.


European rugby’s showpiece event, and the second biggest game in world rugby this year, the Heineken Cup final returns on the 21st of May. This year’s match sees two former champions battling for the crown. 2009 champions Leinster will face Northampton, the winners in 2000.

Leinster have arguably been the best team in Europe over the past three years, winning in 2009, losing to champions Toulouse in the semi-finals in 2010 and defeating the same opposition to reach this season’s final.

Leinster have also arguably come through the tougher side of the draw to reach the final. Prior to beating Toulouse, they beat English rugby’s number one team Leicester Tigers in the quarter-final (their 2009 final opponents), as well as coming through a group against Saracens from England and Racing Metro and Clermont from France.

The two games against Clermont were particularly bruising encounters, and helped Leinster to truly underline their champions credentials. Prior to their win in 2009, Leinster had long been seen as big game bottlers and softies from the better areas of Dublin. This was particularly emphasised in comparison to their more successful neighbours Munster from Ireland’s southwest.

That 2009 win was something of a watershed moment for Leinster, and since then they have been regarded as the strongest team in Ireland and one of the top 3 in Europe. This years success has been built on the experience of players like Brian O’Driscoll (seen as the top centre in world rugby sine Tana Umaga’s retirement) combined with the energy and drive provided by younger players like Sean O’Brien and Cian Healy.

Northampton, in comparison, faded away after their Heineken Cup win in 2000, even being relegated from the Premiership in 2007. The club has, however, been transformed under the stewardship of Director of Rugby Jim Mallinder.

Appointed following their relegation, Mallinder guided the team through an unbeaten season in the RFU Championship to secure instant promotion. This was followed by an 8th place finish in the Premiership in 2009 along with winning the second tier European competition, the Amlin Challenge Cup. The following year they finished second in the table, but lost their play-off semi-final.

This year, Northampton are looking like a particularly strong outfit. Led by England internationals Dylan Hartley, Courtney Lawes and Chris Ashton, they have a strong blend of forward power and backline dynamism to challenge Leinster. With one game to play they are all but ensured of a play-off place, with only a 30+ point defeat for them being combined with a similar win for Bath being enough to deny them.

Northampton’s path to the final began in Pool 1, where they overcame Cardiff, Castres and Edinburgh to top the group with a 100% and claiming top seeding for the knockout stages. Following this, they had easy victories in both their quarter-final against Ulster (Ireland) and their semi-final against Perpignan from France.

The main issue for them would be that they are relatively untested in European competition this season. While Leinster have overcome two of the best teams in Europe, Ulster are only the third best of the four Irish provinces, while Perpignan are a long way off their form of the mid 2000’s when they won both the French championship and the Heineken Cup.

If I was a neutral, then I would be supporting Northampton in this game, but as Leinster are my local team, and one that I have supported on too many occasions to count, my colours are firmly nailed to the mast in the blue of the men from Dublin. Regardles of the outcome, the match should be a belter, with both sides giving all they've got in the hopes of regaining their former title.

Key men:

Leinster: Brian O’Driscoll – The veteran centre is unmatched in world rugby for his ability to conjure a score from nothing. Leinster’s go to guy when things aren’t going their way, the Irish captain is always reliable for crashing through the opponent’s defences or turning the ball over at the breakdown. Would also appear to be made of elastic from the number of times that he has bounced back from injuries that would put others out of a game.

Honourable mentions: Sean O’Brien, Isa Nacewa.

Northampton: Chris Ashton – 78 tries in 81 appearances for Northampton and 9 in 9 for England says it all. The 24 year old has pace, power and an eye for a gap. He came to international prominence while scoring two tries against Australia last November and then 6 in his first two appearances in the 2011 Six Nations championship. His liking for a swan dive while scoring a try may get him in trouble with his international manager, but Northampton fans will be hoping to see him dive across Cardiff’s whitewash.

Honourable Mentions: Courtney Lawes, Ben Foden

A Beginner’s Guide to Rugby:

Like any team sport, the aim of the game is to score more points than the opposition. A try is worth five points, and is awarded when the ball is touched down between the oppositions goal line and dead ball line. After a try, a team is given a chance at a further two points by kicking a conversion. A penalty can be awarded for any number of fouls, and a successful conversion of a penalty awards a team three points. A drop-goal is scored from open play when a player kicks the ball above the cross bar and between the posts, and is also worth three points.

All parts of the body may be used to touch the ball, but the ball may go forward only if it is carried or kicked. A pass must be sideways or backwards. Other key terms in rugby are a ruck, a maul, a scrum and a lineout.

Get Involved:

Beijing has a number of rugby teams, including the Wudaokou based Beijing Aardvarks, and the Sanlitun based Beijing Devils. The Aardvarks practice on Thursdays with matches played on a Saturday. More information can be found here. The Devils train on Tuesdays and Thursdays with matches on Saturdays. More information can be found here.


Team Line-Ups (Possible)

Leinster:                                                            Northampton:

1. Cian Healy                                                     1. Soane Tonga’uiha

2. Richardt Strauss                                              2. Dylan Hartley (C)

3. Mike Ross                                                      3. Brian Mujati

4. Leo Cullen (C)                                               4. Courtney Lawes

5. Natan Hines                                                    5. Christian Day

6. Sean O’Brien                                                  6. Phil Dowson

7. Shane Jennings                                         7. Tom Wood

8. Jamie Heaslip                                                 8. Roger Wilson

9. Eoin Reddan                                                   9. Lee Dickson

10. Jonathon Sexton                                           10. Steve Myler

11. Luke Fitzgerald                                             11. Paul Diggin

12. Gordon D’Arcy                                               12. James Downey

13. Brian O’Driscoll                                              13. Jon Clarke

14. Shane Horgan                                               14. Chris Ashton

15. Isa Nacewa                                                   15. Ben Foden


A match report will follow after the game


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