Preview: EDF Energy Cup Final

What is our great game doing to itself? With the unedifying spectacle of grown men swinging handbags dominating the headlines, the more discerning rugby fan would have already switched over to the cricket. Who can blame him?

So should the two major European club competitions be replaced with, well, two major European club competitions? You are not really asking us so why are our ears full of it? Why don’t you go and discuss it behind closed doors like adults? In short, shut up and let us watch some rugby in peace.

Luckily for the fans who have yet to defect, this weekend offers a respite from the pin-striped carnage. Twickenham will host the final of the EDF Energy Cup on Sunday, and the match between Leicester Tigers and the Ospreys promises to be a rip-roaring affair.

Ironically, this competition was born out of the same type of clock-and-dagger politicking that has brought the Heineken Cup to it’s knees – the sort of treachery that would have made Judas Iscariot blush. But one supposes that that is the price we must pay for professional rugby.

Yet the Anglo-Welsh competition is one that few clubs take seriously – despite their arguments to the contrary – and as a result produces too many meaningless games.

Nor has yet set punters’ pulses racing – it is, after all, the rugby equivalent of soccer’s Carling Cup. But hey, us beggars cannot be choosers.

And yet Sunday’s plot has ‘blockbuster’ written all over it.

In the red corner, Leicester – targeting an unprecedented treble and on the hunt for their first trophy since they lifted the Heineken Cup in Cardiff five years ago.

In the blue corner, the Ospreys – hoping to cock another snoot at the English for all of Wales and Europe (bar France).

And the presence of Welsh prodigy James Hook could even make it a game to linger in the memory.

The fly-half has won 11 caps for Wales, but it could be 111, given the maturity, guile and tactical mastery the 21-year-old has already shown during his fledgling career.

Comparisons between Hook and the great Barry John are regularly – although somewhat prematurely – made in Wales, yet he is a talent of such rare quality that it is not difficult to see where the excitables are coming from.

Like all the finest players, Hook performs with an unflustered ease. There is time and space in everything he does; he rarely makes a mistake; and he has already proved himself an ice-cool customer when the heat comes on amid pressure situations.

Hook put his claw into England last month, steering Wales comfortably towards a successful face-saving Six Nations mission, then returned to the Millennium Stadium a week later and guided the Ospreys home against EDF semi-final opponents Cardiff Blues.

On both occasions, he proved the dominant figure, standing head and shoulders above anyone else, so who is to say he won’t deliver again this weekend and keep Leicester waiting a little bit longer in what has become – by their standards – a painfully long wait for silverware.

Whether watching on television or at Twickenham in person, make an effort to catch Hook this weekend because, as sure as night follows day, it will be back to the politics on Monday morning.

Form: Leicester Tigers, who stand at the top of the Guinness Premiership, reach an eleventh domestic cup final at Twickenham, where their record is an even won 5, lost 5.

The Tigers’ last domestic cup final at HQ was the 9-3 win over Sale on 10 May 1997 – Leon Lloyd is the only surviving Leicester squad member from that day. The Tigers’ have lost on their last two visits to Twickenham – the Premiership finals of 2005 (14-39 to London Wasps) and 2006 (20-45 to Sale Sharks).

Leicester have won eight of their last nine matches against Welsh opponents in all competitions, including victories on the only two previous occasions they have faced the Ospreys: 30-12

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