I have tons of admiration and affection for both Leicester and Harlequins but, asked to choose between my two old clubs, I draw on the detachment and expertise that I've gained as a rugby analyst. Sorry if that sounds dry and technical but, after Brian O'Driscoll and co. blitzed last week's bets, we need a measured approach to Saturday's Aviva Premiership Final.
What a performance that was from Leinster - although, strictly speaking, backing to lay Ulster was the right way to go because they were 3-0 up after ten minutes. But seriously, of the many lessons to be taken from the Heineken Cup final, Leinster reminded us why big match experience is so valuable. Bear that in mind this week because Leicester have played in the last three Premiership finals, they know what it takes to win and what it's like to lose and that will stand them in good stead against the less-seasoned Quins.
Harlequins won at Welford Road in October but don't read anything in to that. Leicester haven't lost a league match since then and, following the return of their World Cup players, they have been awesome. They powered their way back from 11th in the table to finish second and, if you want pointers to how the final may pan out, their 43-33 win at the Stoop in April provides them.
I know this one backfired last week but it's important to note that Leicester came from 13 points down to pull off their away win to Quins. Both number eights crossed the whitewash that day and the battle between Thomas Waldrom and Nick Easter is going to be crucial once again. With their old school attitudes and attributes, these two might have nutritionists pulling their hair out but they're both exemplary readers of the game. Big-boned bruisers who will be in the thick of it when the teams batter each other in the initial exchanges. I actually think we might get an early breakthrough so have a small bet on 11-20 minutes for first try.
Word is Toby Flood won't be fit but George Ford, who outplayed Owen Farrell in the semi-final, is an able replacement and the match-up between him and Nick Evans intrigues. At nine, Danny Care has been in blistering form since returning to the side and it's between him and opposite scrum-half Ben Youngs for who starts for England in South Africa. Youngs is playing well and his ability to open up defences, as he did against Argentina at the World Cup, could prove decisive if it's close in the second-half. I think it could be. In spite of Leinster's demolition of Ulster, I'm keeping faith with the win-from-behind pattern of finals and backing Harlequins/Leicester.
Having lead the table for most of the season, Harlequins will believe that they have been the best team. The table never lies, as Sir Alex Ferguson was recently forced to acknowledge. Seeing how Leinster drew on their big match experience last week has swayed me toward the Leicester victory. They have the power and pedigree to prevail, but not by much.
3pts Back Harlequins/Leicester @ 6.6
3pts Back Leicester to win by -12.5 points @ 1.85
1pt Back 11-20 for first try
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