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Give 'perfect final' to best referee in the business – Andy Goode

By Andy Goode
2024's finalists Toulouse and Leinster walk out for last year's Champions Cup semi-final (Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Everyone expected this Investec Champions Cup final between the best two teams in the competition, and an English referee will now help to ensure it is the spectacle we all want it to be.

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With Irish and French referees out of the equation, England’s Luke Pearce is surely the frontrunner to get the whistle for the May 25 decider.

His control of the breakdown, desire to see a fast-paced game, and ability to communicate in French make him the perfect man for the job.

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Leinster and Toulouse were deserved winners in their semi-finals. The fact that they were both closer affairs than anticipated is a testament to Northampton and Harlequins, but both played on the edge and got away with a few close calls.

Romain Ntamack’s tackle on Andre Esterhuizen wasn’t looked at in Toulouse and you could pick out any number of breakdowns at Croke Park, with most people highlighting Jack Conan’s turnover at the end in particular.

Fixture
Investec Champions Cup
Leinster
22 - 31
Full-time
Toulouse
All Stats and Data

It’s only cheating if you get caught and I’m sure both teams will push the referee to their limits again, but Pearce should get the nod for me and would help to ensure a fair contest at the breakdown.

One decision that wasn’t in any way controversial but did cost Quins the chance to make it a grandstand finish in Toulouse was Joe Marler’s slap and insult directed at Thomas Ramos

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There are mouth-watering individual match-ups all over the field but Jack Willis’ duel with Josh van der Flier in that back row department is going to be among the biggest of the lot, along with Emmanuel Meafou against Joe McCarthy in the engine room.

We all know Willis’ story and he was extremely unlucky with injuries as well as the sad demise of Wasps, but he has added another dimension to his game since moving to France. It’s crazy to think he only has 14 England caps and won’t be adding to that number anytime soon.

Of course, we have got the two best scrum-halves in the world at the moment going head to head as well and the battle for ball speed between Antoine Dupont and Jamison Gibson-Park will go a long way to deciding who wins with both sides reliant on shifting the ball quickly.

It’s the mental aspect that is arguably most intriguing of all given that Leinster have had the wood on Toulouse in recent years but struggled to get over the line in finals and some other big knockout games of late.

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A certain Jacques Nienaber and his history of winning the biggest of games by a single point might just tip the balance in the Irish province’s favour and his defensive system has certainly started to take effect.

The South African said it would take 14 weeks to see the work on that come to fruition and that coincided with their quarter-final demolition of La Rochelle.

Toulouse have a bit more nuance to their game and play differently to the reigning champions but you don’t get too many blitz defences like Leinster’s in the Top 14, so it will be interesting to see how they react to it.

Selection is going to be fascinating too and the potential return of both Garry Ringrose and Hugo Keenan will give the Irishmen a massive lift. Jamie Osborne and Ciaran Frawley are both good players but they aren’t experienced at the highest level.

On the other side, Blair Kinghorn has been tearing it up and was preferred to Ramos at full-back for the semi-final. But you have to have your first-choice goal-kicker on the field in a major final that could be decided by the finest of margins.

I fully expect the Frenchman to get the nod, given he is an 84 per cent kicker at international level and has never missed more than two shots at goal in a Test in his career. Kinghorn might start on the wing once his nose has straightened up a bit.

The tournament has come in for some criticism again this year but the product on the field has been outstanding and the fact the English teams have proven they can compete with the bigger budgets in France and Dublin has been an enormous part of that.

At the climax of it all, though, we have the two best teams locking horns at a phenomenal stadium in what should be a hugely entertaining showpiece – and you can’t ask for much more than that.

Toulouse will play their way and Leinster will need to have more than one man on Dupont at all times. If they can shut him down, I just feel like the Irish side, with a new South African accent, might just have the edge.

For all the good work that Stuart Lancaster did, in tandem with Leo Cullen, Leinster only won the Champions Cup once in his seven years there. That was all the way back in 2018 so it has been a long time since they lifted the trophy.

Nienaber has come in having won back-to-back Rugby World Cups, including winning every knockout game in 2023 by a single point. That defensive nous and winning mentality could be the difference in a major final.

The drive for five has been a mantra for Leinster and it will be tight, but I’m backing them to put a fifth star on their jersey and who better to do it against than the team they are looking to emulate?

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Comments

4 Comments
J
JPM 68 days ago

Andy Goode pushing his own agenda with very dubious considerations on refereeing performances. Luke Pearce speaking a bit of French doesn’t make him a good and adequate referee for the Champions Cup final; his latest refereeing performance in particular was not so great.

T
Turlough 68 days ago

One that will start to come up from now on is penalties for back pushes during kick chase scrambles. Very difficult to detect.
In Croke Park if you replay the Hendy NH try, you will see Furbank push Porter in the back, who collides with Larmour knocking the ball across into Hendy’s path to dot down.
A more significant example was in the RWC QTR final where Arendse pushes Fickou into two other French players for the ball to spill into Arendse’s path for him to gather and run in to score SAs first try.
Not cheating if you are not caught and very difficult to spot but with kicking becoming so critical I feel its an area that will referreeed/TMO-ed more.

D
Dan 68 days ago

Nika the Georgian is the best referee in the world at the moment.

Luckily we will be spared the shite SH refs and Barnes will hopefully remain retired given how shite and embarrassing he was at the RWC.

C
Colin 68 days ago

Finals are always tense affairs for the players so I do not expect this to be a spectacle of running rugby unfortunately.

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