NORTHAMPTON captain Dylan Hartley believes Leinster are over-playing the seriousness of Brian O’Driscoll’s knee injury and expects to be lining up opposite the centre in Saturday’s Heineken Cup final.
O’Driscoll’s participation has been in doubt since he limped out of Friday’s Magners League victory over Ulster, with Leinster forwards coach Jonno Gibbs describing his chances as ‘touch and go’.
But Hartley believes Leinster are attempting to play mind-games ahead of the Millennium Stadium clash.
“O’Driscoll has to be fit,” said Hartley. “I’ve seen that man go down so many times in internationals and then get up and score tries. I can guarantee he will be playing. He is the talisman for them but he isn’t the only one as with the likes of Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip, Leinster are a star-studded team.”
And Hartley warned Heaslip he may regret revealing the Heineken Cup is an excellent trophy from which to toast success. “I heard Heaslip talking about how good the Heineken Cup was to drink out of so I look forward to that,” laughed Hartley when asked if he had thought about lifting the trophy.
“And this will be as close as you can get to a Test match in terms of intensity. We need to go up a gear from normal but that will just happen due to the occasion. We have to look to do the basics well and gain dominance up front so Stephen Myler can make the right decisions and put us in the right positions. Then we have to take our chances.”
While Tom Wood, the Aviva Premiership’s Player of the Season, was ruled out due to a hairline fracture to his right fibula, Saints’ coach Jim Mallinder is amazed the remainder of his players have a clean bill of health. And Mallinder believes Leinster’s style could suit his players after they lost an arm-wrestle against Leicester in the Premiership semi-final on Saturday.
The game was marred by the failure of referee Wayne Barnes to dismiss Manu Tuilagi for punching Chris Ashton three times, but with Saints’ flyers unable to get their hands on the ball Mallinder is expecting a more open encounter this weekend — with O’Driscoll leading Leinster.
“We assume Brian is going to be playing,” he said. “We all saw that he hobbled off but I imagine the word precaution was going through the coaches’ minds at the time.
“But our self-belief is very high. And although losing Tom is a big blow, when you get to this stage of the season with only one player out, then you’d probably take it.
“And it’s clear to everyone that Leinster like to play a little bit more, they like a quicker tempo game. They have some strong forwards but are equally strong out wide and like to use the backs, especially from first phase. We know we’ll be under pressure but we’ve said that against some of the big sides but have come through.
“I think they have gone up another level under Joe Schmidt. They have toughened themselves up, up front so they can scrummage and compete with the best teams, as well as having the good attacking flair Leinster have always got. But finishing the season without a trophy is something we aren’t considering.”
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