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Battle Stations: where this year's Heineken Cup will be won and lost

We take a look at five key areas in which this year’s Heineken Cup could be decided.

Image: Lynne Cameron/PA Archive/Press Association Images

Front row

In Soane Tonga’uiha, Dylan Hartley and Brian Mujati, Northampton undoubtedly have one of the best front rows in European rugby.

A powerful unit, they will definitely put Leinster under pressure in the scrum and the titanic individual battles between Healy and Mujati on one side and between Ross and Tonga’uiha on the other will be fascinating to watch.

Joe Schmidt will rightly have every confidence that his boys can stand up to the test. A big early win in the scrum, as we saw in the semi-final against Toulouse, could go a long way.

In the loose

One area in which Leinster could do serious damage is in the ruck. The Leinster forwards have been very effective at counter-rucking in Europe this season, killing the opposition’s momentum and winning plenty of turnover ball.

On the other hand, Northampton have often seemed reluctant to commit too many players at the breakdown, a strategy which they will have to tailor if they are to compete effectively and legally for possession on Saturday.

The Saints will probably have slightly fewer attacking options as a result and it will be interesting to see how they cope.

Romain Poite

Whether it’s true or not, it has become pretty commonplace in recent months to state that Romain Poite doesn’t like Irish teams and Irish teams don’t like Romain Poite.

The French match referee has a very particular style in policing the scrum and the breakdown, quick to award penalties for scrummaging infractions but often allowing genuine contests to develop at the breakdown. The latter should – should – work in Leinster’s favour, but with Poite, you never can tell.

It’s sad that a referee could become so central to the outcome of the game but, as Mr. Poite would say himself, c’est la vie.

Sexton vs Myler

The Heineken Cup Final is typically an excruciatingly tight contest – 10 of the last 11 finals have been won by a single-score margin.

This year’s contest should be no exception which means that accuracy with the boot will be pivotal. Sexton has fared better in the knockout stages so far landing 12/12 kicks at goal while Myler has been successful on 10 out of 14 attempts.

One of the main criticisms of Sexton’s performances in an Irish jersey has been his maturity in knowing when to put boot to ball and when to keep it in hand. Another big performance on the big stage might silence the critics once and for all.

Strength in depth

Joe Schmidt has used his talent-filled bench very effectively in both the Magners League and the Heineken Cup this season.

Jim Mallinder doesn’t quite have the same resources at his disposal, so the quality of replacements which the Leinster coach has at his beck and call could provide him with a vital advantage com the 60-minute mark.

Read more of TheScore.ie‘s coverage of the 2011 Heineken Cup >

About the author:

Niall Kelly

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