After eight months, 134 games and more than 10,700 minutes of rugby, the wait is officially over: the 2011 Magners League Grand Final is finally upon us.
We’ve witnessed yet another incredible season of Magners League rugby and what better way to bring the year to a close than with a winner-takes-all encounter between two of the competition’s biggest rivals?
Munster versus Leinster is always a massive occasion, but with Grand Final glory at stake at Thomond Park, Saturday’s showpiece is set to be truly spectacular.
Leinster will arrive in Limerick as the newly crowned kings of Europe but Munster will be desperate to see them leave with their tails between their legs as the second best in Ireland.
"What a final we have ahead of us – it really is an enormous game," said Celtic Rugby chairman and Scotland and Lions legend Andy Irvine at a Grand Final photo shoot in between the two captain’s runs earlier this afternoon.
"I saw Leinster win in Cardiff last week and they were incredible, but against Munster at Thomond Park, where they haven’t lost a Magners League match this season, it is almost impossible to predict a winner.
"There was always a good chance that the Irish teams would be in contention in the Grand Final because they have such strong squads, but this is going to be an epic match. There is real quality in the Magners League and this game is living proof of that.
"The computer will probably tell you Leinster are slight favourites, but Munster at home with their fanatical support behind them are a mighty force and it is going to be too close to call."
So what does the form book say? Who should emerge victorious come Saturday night? The answer, just as Irvine said himself, is anyone’s guess.
That huge Heineken Cup win over Northampton will ensure Brian O’Driscoll and co to travel to Thomond with an added spring in their step but you can rest assured that Munster will have their hearts set on spoiling a potential double-winning party.
And don’t forget it was the Red Army who tasted success the last time the two teams met eight weeks ago so some would argue that gives them a psychological edge. But that victory came via the narrowest of margins, with a Ronan O’Gara penalty stealing the spoils in the dying seconds. And it came on the back of five successive Leinster derby wins – a stranglehold that stretched all the way back to 2009.
Leinster’s form of late has been nothing short of sensational, with Joe Schmidt’s men having beaten the French Champions, English Champions and European Champions on their way to their second continental crown in three seasons.
Such an impressive string of results has ensured that most of the press talk this week has been about Leinster’s strengths but it’s worth remembering that it was Munster who topped the Magners League standings after 22 gruelling rounds.
Tony McGahan’s troops finished a staggering 13 points above Saturday’s opponents, losing only three games in comparison to Leinster’s six.
Finding it any easier to pick a winner? We didn’t think so.
But while the stats may continually point you in different directions, one prediction looks set to ring true: Irvine’s suggestion that the end-of-season finale will be a titantic battle seems like the safest bet of all.
Munster: F Jones; D Howlett, D Barnes, L Mafi, K Earls; R O'Gara, C Murray; M Horan, D Varley, J Hayes; D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell capt; D Ryan, D Wallace, J Coughlan
Replacements: M Sherry, W du Preez, S Archer, D Leamy, N Ronan, P Stringer, P Warwick, J Murphy
Leinster: I Nacewa, S Horgan, B O'Driscoll, F McFadden, L Fitzgerald, J Sexton, E Reddan; H van der Merwe, R Strauss, M Ross, L Cullen (cpt), N Hines, S O'Brien, S Jennings, J Heaslip
Replacements: A Dundon, C Healy, S Wright, D Toner, K McLaughlin, P O'Donohoe, I Madigan, E O'Malley