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Leicester in pursuit of third title

Latest update : 2009-05-23

The English team of Leicester is hoping for a victory against Irish province Leinster in rugby's European Cup on Saturday, to give them a third European title. Leinster, meanwhile, are looking for a first competition win.

AFP - Plenty of eyes will be on Brian O'Driscoll when Irish province Leinster face English champions Leicester in Saturday's European Cup final here at Murrayfield.

But whether Leinster triumph at the first time of asking in European club rugby's showpiece match could owe as much to an Australian as Ireland's inspirational captain.

Wallaby flanker Rocky Elsom played a vital role as Leinster upset the odds to beat Irish rivals and defending European champions Munster 25-6 in the semi-finals.

A huge presence in defence, Elsom also makes ground when Leinster have the ball in hand.

But this week he gave the Dublin-based side a scare when he was involved in a car crash. However, coach Michael Cheika gave him the all-clear by saying Wednesday: "Rocky is back. He did contact work today (Wednesday) and everyone's good."

Cheika, previously in charge of Sydney side Randwick, has been Leinster's coach since 2005.

Up until the semi-final, the Australian had to endure accusations that his side, for all their Ireland backs, lacked clout up front when it mattered most.

"Leicester have won the tournament twice and are now through to their fifth final so they certainly know just what to expect on the day," said Cheika. "What we have to do is make sure we prepare in every way to achieve our goal."

O'Driscoll has enjoyed a brilliant season so far, captaining Ireland to a Six Nations Grand Slam - their first clean sweep since 1948 - and the gifted centre is set to be a key figure in the upcoming British and Irish Lions.

Ian McGeechan, the Lions coach will simply hope that O'Driscoll and the other members of his squad to face the world champion Springboks on show at Murrayfield come through unscathed.

O'Driscoll may have set the seal on Leinster's semi-final win but said afterwards it was the forwards who deserved the credit.

It was a point echoed by fellow Ireland international and Leicester captain Geordan Murphy, whose talents as a full-back led former Tigers boss Dean Richards to describe him as "the George Best of rugby".

Murphy said: "While Leinster have always had a world class back line, now they also have the forward power to maximize those strengths and Rocky Elsom has been possibly their stand out player this season, a truly tremendous signing.

"Brian O'Driscoll is one of the best centres in the world but if you worry and concentrate on just one player then you will only create space and opportunities for the likes of Gordon D'Arcy, Luke Fitzgerald and Rob Kearney."

Australia's Chris Whitaker, the longtime deputy to Wallaby great George Gregan, will be calling the shots at scrum-half.

But during the semi-final he was aided by the way fly-half Jonathan Sexton proved himself a more than able deputy when Pumas playmaker Felipe Contepomi went off with a season-ending knee injury.

Leinster captain Leo Cullen, on the receiving end of the eye gouge that led to a ban for Alan Quinlan that cost the Munster back-row his place in the Lions squad, knows better than most what is in store for his side.

The lock spent several seasons with the Tigers before returning home in the hope Leinster might emulate the success he'd enjoyed at Welford Road.

"They're just based on hard work and being tight-knit and fighting for each other. They certainly like a good ol' bash at training," Cullen said.

Leicester are bidding to emulate their 2001 and 2002 predecessors by completing an English and European double.

They have an enviable habit of winning tight games be it their 10-9 Premiership final win over London Irish last weekend or their even closer 'shoot-out' European semi-final success against Cardiff where, after the match finished 26-26 all following extra time, England forward Jordan Crane succeeded with the decisive place-kick.

And if Saturday's match is close, few would bet against the Tigers finding a way to win, especially if the game becomes an attritional contest that neuters the impact of Leinster's backs.

Tigers coach Richard Cockerill was far from happy with last weekend's Premiership final win, saying: "If we play like that we won't beat Leinster. They're probably a better side than Irish with more world-class players."

Murphy knows that most neutrals will be hoping O'Driscoll can add the European Cup to his impressive CV but, when it comes to club rugby, he is as much a Leicester man as anyone born in the Midlands city.

"There is a feel good factor in Irish rugby after the Six Nations and that is fantastic for the country," he said. "But on Saturday it will only be all about Leicester and Leinster."

Date created : 2009-05-23