Munster will have the big weight of home advantage behind them when they take on Wasps in front of a sell-out crowd of 49,000 at Lansdowne Road today but I still think that Wasps will go in as favourites.
One thing you can be sure about is that it will be a ferociously physical game and that neither side will be shirking anything. I just feel that Wasps have the edge in the aggression department and their simple but effective gameplan is durable enough to absorb whatever Munster can throw at them.
This semi-final has all the ingredients to be the best game we have seen in the tournament so far because these are class opponents who can bring the best out of each other.
Munster bring a tremendous Heineken Cup pedigree to the fray and they will be desperate for their first European title after so many near misses in recent seasons. And we all know how intimidating a full Lansdowne Road can be when the fans sense that their services are required to give their team an extra boost.
But Wasps have an all-round game that can match the Irish province and I feel they have the extra bit of force up front that will enable them to be the more intimidating side.
Their aggressive nature has been expertly moulded into a defensive framework by Shaun Edwards. It is not a pretty, expansive game they play. Indeed, they have not shown in offence what they are fully capable of achieving. They have not needed to. Most of their points come from an aggressive defence that forces the opposition into errors and into yielding turnovers.
Their approach is very direct, their centres are forceful and every facet of their game is controlled, whether it calls for direct running from the back line or a kicking game from Alex King. On his day, King can kick as well as anyone and having Robert Howley at the top of his form as his half-back partner means that the team has a control centre as efficient and effective as any.
From their positional play, Wasps can force errors and put relentless pressure on scrums and line-outs. Forwards like Lawrence Dallaglio, Simon Shaw, Trevor Leota, Craig Dowd and Joe Worsley are always a problem.
The London team will have taken special note of how the Munster pack were given a difficult time in the scrums by Stade Français. If there is a weakness there, Wasps will exploit it. Munster have struggled up front before but have got away with it because they are the sort of team bred to overcome adversity. When it comes to showing character they are one of the best in Europe.
If they match Wasps for ferocity up front, gain parity and get quality ball, they could well prove my prediction wrong because they are a very well-balanced team. They have an excellent back five in the pack with players like Paul O'Connell, David Wallace and Anthony Foley. Christian Cullen has brought a lot of experience to their back division and with Rob Henderson fit and Ronan O'Gara playing well they are going to be a threat.
But they will need to be at their best to break through the Wasps umbrella defence who get up so quick on the outside and close space down. Their wingers invariably defend well and their centres Stuart Abbott and Fraser Waters give nothing but grief to the opposition.
They might not have Munster's experience of playing in the final stages of the Heineken Cup but they have developed the type of game that is necessary at this level. They have introduced power into every facet of their play and perform the basics so well they leave precious little opportunity for their opponents to cash in on mistakes.
As I said at the beginning, we can't judge what effect the experience of playing in front of so many at a place as fearsome at Lansdowne Road will have on them.
But Wasps can be fortified by the knowledge that if they can come victorious out of this, they will find playing at Twickenham in the final such an advantage they can get past that hurdle as well.Reuse content