Sam Cronin admits that defending champions Clontarf face a difficult task as they seek to retain their Ulster Bank League crown against a Lansdowne side that dominated the regular season.

The southside club are favourites for Saturday's decider (live on RTÉ2 and worldwide on RTÉ.ie from 12.45pm, kick-off 1pm) having ended the season at the top of the table and with the best attacking and defensive record in the league to boot.

They also go into the match having comprehensively defeated Clontarf away from home when the sides met in early January.

Cronin is happy to admit that Lansdowne’s position in the league was no fluke.

"They are a fabulous team, they have got huge strengths," Cronin conceded.

"Their position in the table didn’t lie, they were first and they are the favourites for the weekend. We have a huge task ahead of us on Saturday."

But despite going into the match as underdogs, the atmosphere in Clontarf is positive.

"It's a bit nervous, a bit anxious but everyone is really fizzing," Cronin added.

"We are underdogs, that’s a fact. But we have confidence in our own abilities, our team and our plays. They have a superb backline but their forwards are on a par in my opinion. It’s two evenly matched teams.”

Clontarf have a history of narrow defeats in semi-finals and finals and lost league deciders in 2003, 2006 and 2009, but Cronin’s view is that the current team is not weighed down by any baggage.

“We are the reigning champions, so we have pedigree as well in that sense.”

For their part, despite cantering through the regular season Lansdowne needed extra-time to win a hard-fought semi-final encounter with Young Munster.

Captain Ron Boucher admits that there was a sense of relief in the club after coming through that examination but he is not of the view that Lansdowne’s 35-0 victory over Clontarf in January has a bearing on this weekend.

“We played really, really well out there," Boucher said.

"It was probably our best performance all season, but at this stage it’s cup rugby, it’s a one off game. We’ll be looking to emulate that performance but I don’t think that result has any bearing on what’s going to happen on Saturday.”

In terms of preparation, and having got sucked into playing a tighter game against the Cookies, Lansdowne will stick to the methods that have served them well to date rather than adapting their style to cup rugby.

“We focus on our processes and Mike (Ruddock) gets us ready every week as to how we want to defend and how we want to attack.

“There are little variations every week, depending on who we are playing or what we want to try but the message is always the same, we want to play good quality, fast rugby. Hopefully Clontarf do as well and we’ll have a good game."

Ulster Bank League Form
Lansdowne: WWWLW
Clontarf: LLWWW

Lansdowne: Cian Kelleher; Mark Roche, Tom Farrell, Tom Daly, Ian Fitzpatrick; Scott Deasy, Adam Griggs; Peter Dooley, Tyrone Moran, Ian Prendiville, Brian Moylett, Stephen Gardiner, Joe McSwiney, Aaron Conneely, Ron Boucher (capt)

Replacements: Paddy Flood, Adam Boland, Tadhg Beirne, Paddy O'Driscoll, Tom Kiersey, Cian Aherne, Joe O'Brien

Clontarf: Rob Keogh; Conor O'Brien, Colm O'Shea, Matt D'Arcy, Max McFarland; Evan Ryan, Sam Cronin (capt); Ivan Soroka, Bryan Byrne, Royce Burke Flynn, Tom Byrne, Ben Reilly, Karl Moran, Adrian D'Arcy, Tony Ryan
 
Replacements: Rory Litchfield, Liam Og Murphy, Ian Hirst, Dermot O'Meara, Ariel Robles, Timmy McCoy, Conor O'Keeffe

Referee: Sean Gallagher 

Watch Lansdowne v Clontarf in the Ulster Bank League final from 12.45pm on RTÉ2 and worldwide on RTÉ.ie on Saturday