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Ospreys vs Leinster Rugby
Guinness Pro12 Round 19
Liberty Stadium, Swansea,
Saturday, 8th April 2017, 15:00

Television: Live Sky Sports

That was pretty sweet!

Leinster announced their return to Europe's top table in style with a comprehensive defeat of the English league leaders last week.

The margin wasn't quite the same as in the beatings Wasps had inflicted on Leinster the previous season, but there was no question from anyone that the dominant and better team won. It wasn't a perfect performance, there was a few ropey lineouts, some missed chances and some dodgy defence for the two Wasps tries (and the one that wasn't!). There was also some tense moments for the crowd in the second half as two Wasps tries threatened an unlikely comeback, but the young Leinster side showed their character to steady the ship and work the winning score. In any case, it would be churlish to expect perfection from a team playing their first game together for ten weeks and there was so much good stuff too. They won all the key battles, dominating at the breakdown and scrum and tearing into Wasps with a hard, aggressive defensive line. This completely put Wasps off their game and they only threatened in patches off loose Leinster play.

The Leinster attack was also excellent, spearheaded by the seemingly fearless Joey Carbery at full back who showcased his wonderful natural talents for all Europe to see. His selection was seen as a risk beforehand but Leo Cullen and his coaching ticket were utterly vindicated by this and all the other selection calls. Jack Conan and Dan Leavy were so good in the back row, the biggest compliment you can give them is that the likes of Jamie Heaslip and Rhys Ruddock weren't missed at all. The midfield of Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose ate their Wasps counterparts alive and Tadgh Furlong once again showed he's the best tighthead in Europe. Leinster now go to Lyon in three weeks to face our old friends Clermont. The massive French team will be big favourites in their home country but Leinster will be under no pressure and will quietly fancy their chances if the weather's good and they can get a run at their big men.

Before that though, it's back to Pro12 business and though they're top of the table, Leinsters position in the play-offs is far from certain yet and with three of their four last games away from home, they have a tough run-in to secure a home semi-final. First up is the Ospreys, who've had a tough couple of weeks. They had been looking in quite a promising position, neck and neck with Leinster and Munster at the top of the table. They also had their eye on their first silverware in five years in the form of the European Challenge cup and had what looked like a handy home quarter-final against a depressed looking Stade Francais side. The first blow came when they somehow managed to lose 13-5 away to Treviso two weeks ago, not even earning a losing bonus point against the hapless Italians. This opened up a clear gap between them and the two Irish teams ahead, six points in the case of Leinster. Then last week they played Stade at home and were almost ludicrously dominant in a game they played for almost half of it against fourteen men but still somehow managed to lose. The league is all they have now and they will be desperate to return to winning ways with a win tomorrow afternoon.

Their coach Steve Tandy will have been in a dark mood with his players all week, but he will be lifted by the sight of Leinster, a side his team always seem to play well against, even in defeat. In their meeting earlier in the season, Leinster raced into a 31-0 lead shortly after half-time. For once it was going to be a handy win over the Ospreys which the RDS could sit back, relax and enjoy. Except it wasn't! There was still drama as the Ospreys went back to what they do best against Leinster, flinging it from everywhere and offloading to be damned!! One, two, three tries later and suddenly Leinster were sweating over a dwindling 31-19 lead with still seven minutes to go. But Leinster held on, but it served as a reminder, the Ospreys are never dead until they're in the ground!

Tandy has named a team showing just two changes from last week. Olly Cracknell is the only change to the pack that's badly missing it's injured talisman Alun Wyn Jones. The only change in the backline sees Kieron Fonotia replace Ashley Beck at outside centre. Dan Biggar makes his 200th appearance for the Ospreys and he is joined by his international halfback partner Rhys Webb in possibly the best half-back combination in the league.

For Leinster, Leo Cullen has shuffled the deck and made eight changes from the team that started last week. Skipper Isa Nacewa moves to full back, with Fergus McFadden and Rory O'Loughlin coming in on the wings. Robbie Henshaw starts again at 12 with Zane Kirchner coming in to partner him. Joey Carbery moves to fly-half and Jamison Gibson-Park comes in at scrumhalf. Jack McGrath and Tadhg Furlong are again the starting props but Sean Cronin makes a welcome return from injury to start at hooker. Devin Toner continues in the second row but is partnered this week by Mick Kearney. Finally there are two changes in the back row with the fit again Rhys Ruddock and Josh van der Flier coming in on the flanks alongside number eight Jack Conan. Despite all the changes, it's still a very strong Leinster side.

It's been a feelgood week for Leinster with a raft of contract extensions announced for both players and coaches. Leinster will be looking to keep their momentum going, not having lost a match since Munster away on St. Stephen's day. However it might be a case of "after the Lord Mayor's show" for Leinster after the big win last week and the Ospreys will be more desperate for a win, which could just tilt this tie their way.


Team Lineups

Ospreys
Leinster Rugby
Teams Sam Davies 15 Isa Nacewa
Keelan Giles 14 Rory O'Loughlin
Kieron Fonotia 13 Zane Kirchner
Josh Matavesi 12 Robbie Henshaw
Dan Evans 11 Fergus McFadden
Dan Biggar 10 Joey Carbery
Rhys Webb (C) 9 Jamison Gibson-Park

Nicky Smith 1 Jack McGrath
Scott Baldwin 2 Sean Cronin
Brian Mujati 3 Tadhg Furlong
Lloyd Ashley 4 Devin Toner
Rory Thornton 5 Mick Kearney
Olly Cracknell 6 Rhys Ruddock
Justin Tipuric 7 Josh van der Flier
Dan Baker 8 Jack Conan

Replacements Scott Otten 16 James Tracy
Paul James 17 Peter Dooley
Ma'afu Fia 18 Mike Ross
Bradley Davies 19 Ian Nagle
Tyler Ardron 20
Dan Leavy
Sam Underhill 21 Nick McCarthy
Tom Habberfield 22 Ross Byrne
Jonathan Spratt 23 Dave Kearney

Not Considered
Due to Injury
Dmitri Arhip,
Adam Beard,
Hanno Dirksen,
Jeff Hassler,
Ben John,
Alun Wyn Jones,
Dan Lydiat,
Rob McCusker,
Sam Parry,
James Ratti,
Eli Walker,
Owen Watkin

Jordi Murphy,
James Ryan,
Jeremy Loughman,
Dominic Ryan,
Rob Kearney,
Jamie Heaslip, Adam Byrne
Officials Referee: John Lacey (IRFU - 62nd tournament game),
Assistant Referees: David Wilkinson (IRFU), Rob Price (WRU),
TMO: Neil Paterson (SRU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2017-04-07

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