If all the talk before the semi-finals was of the French millions over-taking European rugby, then it was a shot in the arm to see both Leinster and Northampton overcome French opponents to make it to the Heineken Cup final in recent weeks at the expense of their wealthy opponents.
Leinster, who have been described by Ulster chief David Humphries as “the most complete team in Europe”, displayed their might as they overcame Top 14 leaders Toulouse in the semi-finals to gain revenge for their defeat at the same stage and against the same opponents last year.
Brian O’Driscoll would have been delighted in seeing the commitment of his side as they ran out 32-23 winners, who must have taken their lead from their captain, who opted to miss the Royal wedding for which he had received an invite in order to continue his preparations for the game.
Having been on the losing side in three Heineken Cup semi-finals, O’Driscoll in particular would have relished the victory over the most successful Heineken Cup side in recent years.
Northampton meanwhile have been somewhat more starved of success than their illustrious opponents who last won the tournament in 2008, and last tasted success in European rugby’s showpiece event in 2000 with a win over Leinster’s rivals Munster. They will be hopeful of completing an Irish double in the tournament when the final gets underway in Cardiff on the 21st May.
Northampton emerged from a tricky if not difficult group containing Castres, Edingburgh and Cardiff Blues, who they dispatched of twice to set up a quarter final against Ulster.
Once the Irish side had been dispatched of the confronted Perpignan in the semi’s and upset the odds to over-run their Top 14 opponents 23-7.
Although their Premiership form has been far from spectacular this season – losing 6 games in a row at one point to severely damage their play-off hopes, they have improved as the season reaches its climax. Now in fourth with a four point advantage over 5th placed Bath, Jim Malinder’s men could be in for a spectacular end to the season if they can knock the favourites for the game off their perch once more.
The omens don’t bode well for the Saints however. Leinster dispatched of Premiership league leaders Leicester at the quarter-final stage with ease, and after their victory over Toulouse, they will enter the game as outright favourites.