FEW, including myself, thought Harlequins would have enough to get past Munster in the semi-finals, especially at Thomond Park. Munster’s biggest mistake was probably underestimating them and Quins ran out worthy winners.
Now they’ve given themselves an opportunity to win a major trophy. There are only three on offer each season so to end up with one is big. I also think they’ll want to make up for the surprise defeat to Newcastle in the EDF Cup, and they’ve given themselves a crack.
They’re playing against Stade Francais who themselves have had a disappointing season in the league. It’s going to be a fantastic tussle. Some of the match-ups around 8, 9 and 10 are of international quality. It’s a great stage, the Millennium Stadium, and a great opportunity for those players.
You get the sense the force is with Quins. For all their glamour and glitz, Stade Francais this season have not quite had the substance behind it. With French teams particularly, you feel that when they travel they don’t always go with the best body language. They’re very talented and managed to beat the French champions on their own patch to qualify for the final but I just fancy Quins’ chances – and having written them off once against Munster, I’m not about to do it again.
It promises to be a fantastic battle, as does the Heineken Cup final less than 24 hours later.
Leinster have been very impressive in this European campaign. They’ve beaten the French champions, English champions and European champions on their way to the final, so if they don’t win this competition they’ll feel a huge sense of injustice.
They’ve got some outstanding performers. Sean O’Brien has been the best back-rower in Europe by far this season – his Amlin Opta stats are unbelievable – while O’Driscoll, although he’s not getting any younger, still has the ability to influence a game when they need it most.
Northampton are a quality side making progress every season and were unlucky in the Premiership semi-final. They keep putting themselves in a position to win, but they’re a team who at the moment are developing and learning. That said, they’ve got some real class players and a formidable front row, so it promises to be a cracking game.
Leinster will have to produce their best yet to beat Saints, who will be better for that semi-final experience – there’s nothing like being battle-hardened for a big European game. If I had to pick, while I’d like to see an English winner, the experience is with Leinster and in these games that can make the difference.