The Pro12 final sees the two best teams from that competition face off against one another at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Ulster won the group stage by three points from opponents Leinster, and also won both games against their rivals.
Leinster, meanwhile, will ride into this game on the back of last Friday’s convincing win over Stade Francais in the Amlin Challenge Cup. That win might have cost them dear, though, as key flanker Sean O’Brien, a surprising inclusion in the starting XV as it was, picked up a knee injury and is a serious doubt for Saturday’s game. O’Brien was key in neutralising the threat of Stade’s back row, lead by Italian captain Sergio Parisse. When he went off he was replaced by Shane Jennings, a very fine player in his own right but who still looked several yards slower than the injured O’Brien did.
On the plus side, though, Leinster hope to have captain Brian O’Driscoll back for this game. The veteran centre missed the Amlin final with a back spasm, from which he is expected to recover in time for Saturday. Don’t expect them to risk him if there is any doubt, though. He signed a new one year contract last week, thereby surprising many by extending his career, and therefore the imperative to risk him in what might otherwise have been his final game of club rugby just isn’t there.
Ulster were utterly convincing in reaching the final, thumping leading Welsh side Scarlets 28-17. Unlike Ulster, they’ve had an extra week to bathe their wounds and salve their bruises. As a result they go into this game with no serious injury concerns and a real prospect of upsetting the market. At the moment they are outsiders in the market, with William Hill having them at betting odds as generous as 7/4. Leinster are a best price 8/13 with Coral. That seems at best illogical, given that they won the league stage of the Pro12 and beat Leinster twice in doing so.
One of the things which Stade Francais found out the hard way last week was that you can’t let Leinster get ahead for any length of time, because - even without O’Driscoll - they have the defence to shut a team out of the game. Ulster will know this only too well, which makes the Ulster/Ulster price of 13/5 with Paddy Power the best options for your sports picks in the half time/full time market.
In fact, this is a game of excellent bets. A Leinster try was the first scoring play in the Amlin final, but with two sides who know each other so well in this game, the penalty is always the favored option. The two fly-halves, Jonathan Sexton and Paddy Jackson, are the two number 10s of choice for Ireland, but the greater experience of Sexton, combined with the flakiness that Jackson exhibited under pressure in the Six Nations, suggests that the 6/4 that most sportsbooks are offering on Leinster opening the scoring is the safe bet.
The first tryscorer market always offers some decent odds, too. The man with the killer instinct for the try line is on the Ulster side, and Tommy Bowe is at a very generous 10/1 with Paddy Power, joint favourite with Leinster’s brilliant Isa Nacewa. The Nacewa market looks more motivated by sentiment, though, as the New Zealander retires after this game. All told, Bowe looks the better bet here.