Heineken Cup Final: Leinster v Ulster - key stats

Kearney in action against Clermont

Geoffrey Riddle explains why he expects Leinster to become only the second team to retain the Heineken Cup in what could be a low-scoring final...

Kearney is not the only one playing out of his skin for Leinster and they are worthy favourites.

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2pts Leinster by 1-12.5 points

Twickenham stages the first all-Ireland Heineken Cup final on Saturday when Leinster take on Ulster and all credit to those who had the foresight to back Brian McLaughlin's side back in October. The Ulstermen were matched on Betfair at 110.0109/1, which must go down as one of the great back-to-lay trading vehicles in the outright market in Heineken Cup history.

Ulster came into their opening fixture against Clermont in round one having lost four of their previous five matches but accounted for them with points to spare against arguably Europe's third best side behind Leicester and their final opponents.

They then suffered a defeat away at Leicester - who hasn't lost at Welford Road after the World Cup this season? - but since then they have been on an extraordinary journey. The prized scalp of Munster at Thomond Park in the quarter-final proved to all, not least the squad, that anything is possible and there are many who will be backing, or laying off, Ulster at Betfair's 4.94/1.

It is the first time that both sides have met in the competition but you only have to go back to last month to see what Leinster are capable of. Led by Brian O'Driscoll and Leo Cullen, last year's European champions performed a smash-and-grab raid on Ravenhill to become only the second side to come away with a win from Belfast this season.

The 18-9 victory did not have firm foundation, however, as Ruan Pienaar gave another of his wobbly displays that characterised his international kicking career. The South African has been in dangerous form this season and has amassed 71 points in the Heineken Cup but there has always been the suspicion that on occasion he can go missing at crucial times. Leinster can hardly rely on this.

Unfortunately for Pienaar he is up against Jonathan Sexton, who not only has scored more points in Europe, but has an iron constitution. Sexton and Pienaar are also in contention to be named European player of the year alongside Stephen Ferris, Rob Kearney and Jonny Wilkinson.

Kearney pushed himself into contention with two eye-catching performances for Leinster in the victories over Cardiff and Clermont in the knockout stages. He scored two tries against the Blues at the Aviva Stadium before he dropped a superb goal and created a try for Cian Healy against Clermont in Bordeaux. He has scored six tries in all during the tournament and is at the top of his game. He is not the only one playing out of his skin for Leinster and they are worthy favourites.

According to my ratings, Leinster should be favourites by around eight to 11 points but that does not take into account the likelihood of this final being a low-scoring match.

Barring Ulster's landslide victory against Leicester at Ravehill, McLaughlin's side has progressed through the tournament by relying on a gusty defence and the functioning boot of Pienaar, who can take pot shots from a long range.

Leinster clearly have more finesse to their attack but if you discount Ulster's matches against Aironi they have conceded an average of just 15 points in their six European matches against Leicester, Clermont, Munster and Edinburgh.

It's a beguiling angle and one that leads me to believe that the encounter might be closer than many might envisage.

The 16 finals so far have produced 32 tries, nine of which were scored by forwards - the final can often turn into a war of attrition. The total points average is just 37.25 in that sample, with only a quarter of those breaking the 40 points barrier.

Ahead of last season's final, I suggested laying off my ante-post wager on Northampton and stick the profit on Leinster. At half-time that looked a disastrous trading decision, but thanks to the now-legendary and heroic team talk of Sexton, Leinster swept the Saints away. They are a better side this year, and with only one defeat in their previous 28 matches they can become only the second team other than Leicester to defend their crown and go through the tournament unbeaten.

Recommended Bet
2pts Leinster by 1-12.5 points

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