For Martin Johnson's many admirers there is only one outcome we want from today's Heineken Cup semi-final between Leicester and Toulouse, and that is to see him feature in the final.
He has been the greatest English rugby player, and for all he has given to the game I would love to see him end his tremendous career in a match that represents the pinnacle of European rugby.
That is a bit sacrilegious, because any true rugby fan would want to see Toulouse in the final, because they have the strongest squad in Europe by a mile and any final they are in is likely to be a classic.
But Martin deserves to be an exception to that sentiment, and I think his and Leicester's chances are good. His clubmates will certainly want to give him the best possible finale, and playing in their own city at the Walkers Stadium is bound to be an advantage.
They will be really up for it, and against any other side I would make them favourites. Yet such is the calibre of Toulouse and their greater experience at this level recently that the odds must slightly favour the French club. They don't always play to their full capacity, however, and against Wasps in last year's final they should have walked away with it before Rob Howley scuttled them in the last minute.
It certainly doesn't help Leicester that they will be without their No 8 Martin Corry, who has been banned for three weeks for elbowing his England colleague Richard Hill in the face last weekend. He committed his crime more out of frustration than malice, because it was a reaction after being dragged down. But the referee had given a penalty for that, and violent reaction cannot be condoned. Red mists have to be paid for.
Leicester will miss Corry most in the ball-carrying department, and the rest of the pack are going to have to do his share as well as theirs. The clash between the front-fives will be a key area, and it will be no less intense than any England v France forward battle. The way the Tigers pack played against Leinster gives them hope that they can hold their own.
Lewis Moody and Neil Back will be crucial figures in getting to the breakdowns and slowing down the Toulouse ball, and if the forwards can set up a platform, Andy Goode can have a big influence on the game. He is without doubt the top outside-half in the English game at the moment. The big advantage he has over Charlie Hodgson is that he is full of confidence, and when you have total assurance in that position it spreads throughout the team.
Goode is bursting with the ability and belief necessary to control the pace of the action and command field position. His kicking, both out of hand and at goal, is immense, and he could make all the difference today. Getting his team-mates into the right position from where they can cut loose will be his task.
Leicester are the best English club of the past decade but Toulouse have the more formidable reputation, because they have the ability to play both types of game, tight and loose. They have so many good and great players that they can adapt to any situation, but I have noticed that they tend to drift in and out of games. They seem to go through the gears, and sometimes they change down from being irresistible to mediocre.
And although their mediocre is better than the top form of many teams, Leicester have a realistic chance of seeing that Johnno gets to the final.
Looking forward to cup finals of the future, there was encouraging news last week of an Anglo-Welsh tournament in the offing. This would obviously produce some very exciting contests, but I can sympathise with the Irish regions, who are concerned at the effect it would have on the Celtic League.
We have to keep the Celtic League lively and competitive, but surely there is room for a cross-border competition that would reignite all those old rivalries and stimulate interest for the fans.Reuse content