The final between Leinster and the Ospreys tomorrow evening may be overshadowed by the event being staged at Twickenham, but the two sides contain 12 of last summer's Lions – 13 if the 48-hour visit of Ryan Jones is included – in a match that in terms of quality and intensity will be at least the equal of Saracens versus Leicester.
It is the first time a play-off has determined the champions of the Magners League and Leinster and the Ospreys, the winners in 2008 and 2007 respectively, are looking to become the first team to claim the title for a third time. Leinster finished at the top of the table in the regular season, ahead of the Ospreys who recovered from a wobbly start to cement their place in the play-offs by winning in Munster. did the double over the Welsh region this season and are unbeaten at the Royal Dublin Society ground, tomorrow night's venue, in the league since September 2008.
Michael Cheika, the Leinster head coach, will be in charge for the last time before he leaves for Stade Français and he is looking to go out with a hat-trick of titles after last season's Heineken Cup success. Not that sentiment will play any part for the Australian, who has transformed a side that used to be known for its inability to rise to the occasion, a charge that has more recently been levelled at the .
"It is not about me or any other individual: it is about the club," Cheika said. "There was certainly no sentiment at the end of our final training session when a few errors were made. We'll have plenty of time to say goodbye afterwards. If we can play well enough to win, it will make the club better and that is how you look back at the contribution you have made."
Cheika said he always viewed Ospreys as the biggest threat to Leinster in the Magners. "They are the most dangerous team in the competition," he went on. "They have speed out wide, the quality of James Hook in the midfield, a back row that speaks for itself and I think they will target us in the tight five. We lost a few players last year, but our team spirit is as good as it has ever been and we are going to need every bit of it."
Leinster, who will be without the injured second-row Leo Cullen, have become used to big matches while the Ospreys have still to find a way of getting beyond the Heineken Cup quarter-finals, having lost to Biarritz last month. They have spared no expense in assembling a strong squad but money does not buy attitude and the Ospreys reacted to the Biarritz reverse by spending a week in Ireland where they played two league matches and took the time to sit down as a squad and evaluate where they were and where they needed to be.
"Leinster have beaten us the last few times so we've got to play with a little bit of fear, but not too much respect," said the Ospreys wing Shane Williams, one of last year's Lions. "They are a good side with a great squad and the strength in depth they've got is quite frightening. They have a good record at home, but they are beatable there. We are not going to Dublin for the sake of it: we know we are a strong side and that we have the ability to win."