After a ferocious battle with Clermont Auvergne in France, Leinster emerged victorious by the skin of their teeth to book a place in the Heineken Cup final against countrymen Ulster at Twickenham on the 19th of May at 5pm.
Leinster and Clermont went off dead even with the bookies and they proved their price with a close fought battle all the way that saw Leinster scrape it thanks to some resilient defending and just a little help from the referee. Ulster on other hand battled hard to get past a dogged Edinburgh side in what wasn’t a pretty match
So what can we expect at Twickenham? Well, most pundits have written off Ulster and early suggestions were that the handicap should be as high as Ulster +15, with most agreeing that +12 is a fair line. Early indications are that the bookmakers think it’ll be a little bit closer than that, with Bet365 offering just a 7 point handicap, with Paddy Power, Ladbrokes and William Hill all erring on the side of caution a little bit more and going for 8 points.
All signs point to a relatively easy win for Leinster and despite Ulster stating that they’re comfortable in the underdogs role and that they’ll doubtless give it all they have, I think that Leinster’s class in the open and the incredible defensive structure that Joe Schmidt employs will see them run out winners. The only areas for concern for Leinster are in the scrum which has been under a lot of pressure in recent weeks (both in the Rabodirect Pr012 and the Heineken Cup), and the lineout which wasn’t firing on all cylinders in the first half in France.
Schmidt’s ability to change things up at half time and react in real-time to any strategy that his opponents are employing means that while Ulster may be some value to cover the first half handicap, the guile and resilience of Leinster should see them march easily to a double digit victory by the time the 80 minutes are up.
My lock bet for this one is Leinster -7 with Bet365, with consideration for Ulster +4 at half time, though first half handicaps haven’t been published yet.