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Ospreys vs Leinster Rugby
Liberty Stadium, Swansea
Sunday, 4th November 2012, 16:00

Television: Live RTE1, S4C

Another week, another injury! Hell, at least we're used to it as this stage. This one was crueller than most though.

After Brian O'Driscoll teased us with fifteen minutes of top quality breaks and offloads last Saturday, his ankle ligaments gave out. With the agony he was in clearly visible on his face when it happened, the post-match spin that it was just a sprain sounded too good to be true. Unfortunately so it proved and it's surgery and 8-12 weeks out. Whatever about the autumn internationals, his loss for the Clermont double-header, along with Rob Kearney who was ruled out last week, is a massive blow.

But at least we got some respite from the injury misery with Leinster's systematic destruction of Cardiff last Saturday. Cardiff named a near full strength team with all their top internationals but they would have been better naming their under-20's as at least the youngsters might have shown some heart. This collection of highly rated internationals and Lions prospects simply didn't try a leg as Leinster blew them away with a dazzling first 40 minutes of high tempo rugby.

On the more positive side injury wise, it was nice to see Dave Kearney make a try-scoring return and also a strong showing from Rhys Ruddock off the bench. At long last, Leinster' attack seemed to click and the passes that have been dropping all season finally stuck. After nine games, Leinster's gameplan came together to the tune of nine tries. However such is the system Leinster have to exist under, now they will lose that rhythm all over again as they wave goodbye to 10 of that starting team for five weeks.

They play the Ospreys this Sunday in their final match before a fortnight off. In their opening ten-match chunk of the season, they have won seven games and lost two. Not bad, especially considering the injury list but with the league being very competitive so far this year, a win on Sunday would send them off to their break in good form.

The Ospreys also said goodbye to a lot of their international players as Ashley Beck, Dan Biggar, Ryan Bevington, Aaron Jarvis, Richard Hibbard, Ian Evans, Alun Wyn Jones, Ryan Jones and Justin Tipuric have all been named in caretaker coach Rob Howley's 35-man Wales squad. They need a win though to keep in touch with the top four in the table and to maintain their recent great record over Leinster.

While Leinster were beating all around them last season, going on a record winning streak and going unbeaten in Europe, the Ospreys were delighted to be the party-poopers. Leinster only lost four games all season, but three of them were to the Ospreys. The most painful loss of course was the Pro12 final which they lost by a point in the RDS. In stark contrast to the wretched Cardiff Blues, the Ospreys never give up against Leinster. They always believe in themselves and it's worth remembering that Leinster had significant leads over them in both the defeats in the RDS last season.

In the aftermath of the final, the obvious question was why the Ospreys could never produce that form in Europe, when they're able to consistently beat the three-time champions. For some reason, the confidence the Ospreys have against Leinster and Munster, who they've also consistently beaten, is never replicated against the French and particularly English clubs.

The win last May was heralded by some as a turning point for them. Yet we have already seen it again this season. After comfortably beating Treviso in their first match, they took on Leicester Tigers in Welford Road. After the Ospreys raced into an early 10-0 lead the Tigers came back strongly, but the match was still nicely poised with 15 minutes to go with the sides level on 19 points each. From that position you have to fancy the Ospreys to get a win or a draw from the match. Surely at the very least, they'd get a losing bonus point would have been a decent result away to Leicester.

Instead the Ospreys self-destructed in a manner they simply never do against Leinster. They didn't just fail to win or earn two points from a draw. They didn't just fail to obtain a losing bonus point. They actually managed to concede three tries in the final fifteen minutes to let the Tigers obtain a bonus point of their own while they left empty-handed. In a tight pool with the Tigers and Toulouse, that two-point turnaround has all but cooked their goose. It's not like this was the mighty Leicester of old either, this is the Tigers team that has only qualified from their European pool once in the last three seasons. Yet for some reason Welsh sides still have something of an inferiority complex when it comes to English Clubs. Maybe Irish teams had it when the Heineken Cup started but they'd long since overcome it. The Welsh need to get their attitude right if they ever want to be a real force in Europe.

So with their European campaign looking fragile once again, the champions are trying to reinvigorate the defence of their Pro12 trophy. They had a surprisingly bad start to this campaign losing their first three games. They lost a lot of experience and quality during the summer in the likes of Shane Williams, Paul James, Huw Bennett, Tommy Bowe and Nikki Walker. However they did managed to keep the majority of the young players that provided the spine of the team that won the championship. After their bad start they did manage to recover with big wins over the Scarlets and Munster in a four-match winning streak in the league.

Last week they beat Connacht comfortably but still had most of their internationals around. This week their coach Steve Tandy has named a fairly inexperienced side, especially in the pack. Their backline is still fairly familiar looking with the regular back three of Richard Fussell, Hanno Dirksen and the in-form Eli Walker. Tom Isaacs and Andrew Bishop are the centres and the promising talents of Matthew Morgan and Rhys Webb are trusted as the starting half-backs.

In the pack they will be delighted to have the experience of Duncan Jones available to look after Joe Rees and hooker Matthew Dwyer, who makes his first Ospreys start. Jonathan Thomas moves to the second row where he'll captain the side and he lines up alongside 21-year-old Lloyd Peers who makes his first Pro12 start. George Stowers and Joe Bearman will bring some grunt and nous to the back row alongside young Sam Lewis. Arthur Ellis, Marc Thomas and Daniel Suter will all make their Ospreys debuts if they come off the bench.

For Leinster, it's one of those line-ups which Joe Schmidt pretty much sends out in hope rather than expectation. Between injuries and international unavailability he's missing twenty players from his senior squad, and that's not even counting academy players like Darren Hudson who may have come into the mix if fit. In all he's made 14 changes from the team that started last week, including two positional switches.

Despite speculation during the week, Michael Bent will not now make his Leinster debut on Sunday and he stays with the Ireland squad along with hookers Richardt Strauss and Sean Cronin. With Aaron Dundon still not quite fit, this means Leinster are down to one fit specialist hooker in Tom Sexton. Former Ireland Under-20's loosehead prop James Tracy is on the bench as cover for hooker even though he's only played there as a replacement a couple of times for the 'A' team. Heinke van der Merwe and Jamie Hagan prop down either side of him. With all the talk about Bent, Hagan will be desperate to show he's still around and his match up with Duncan Jones could be crucial.

Devin Toner is the only player to retain the same jersey from the last day and he's partnered by Damian Browne who was delighted to score his first Leinster try last weekend. Rhys Ruddock starts his first game of the season at blindside and Leo Auva'a has recovered from injury to start at number eight. Shane Jennings captains the team from open-side.

In the backs there's a bit of musical chairs as David Kearney switches from wing to full-back to replace Ian Madigan, who himself switches to out-half. He'll partner Isaac Boss, who's back in his scrum-half position after his cameo as an openside flanker last week. New signing from New Zealand, Andrew Goodman makes his first start at inside centre where he links up with Brendan Macken. Andrew Conway and Fionn Carr are the starting wingers although Sam Coghlan-Murray will be hopeful of making his senior debut off the bench at some point after some good recent form for the 'A' side.

With both clubs naming under-strength sides, it's a hard fixture to call. It would be a massive fillip for Leinster if they could win and certainly you feel the Ospreys front five are there to be targeted. That being said, this line-up is not too far from the sides who took hammerings in Llanelli and Connacht and they'll be looking to make up for that. For once, it's probably a game Leinster would prefer to keep tight as they Ospreys backline are noted counter-attackers. If they can do that and Madigan continues his excellent place-kicking form, then maybe they can snatch a very useful win.

Team Lineups

Ospreys

Leinster Rugby
Teams Richard Fussell
15 David Kearney
Hanno Dirksen
14 Andrew Conway
Tom Isaacs
13 Brendan Macken
Andrew Bishop
12 Andrew Goodman
Eli Walker
11 Fionn Carr
Matthew Morgan
10 Ian Madigan
Rhys Webb
9 Isaac Boss

Duncan Jones
1 Heinke van der Merwe
Matthew Dwyer
2 Thomas Sexton
Joe Rees
3 Jamie Hagan
Lloyd Peers
4 Damian Browne
Jonathan Thomas (C)
5 Devin Toner
George Stowers
6 Rhys Ruddock
Sam Lewis
7 Shane Jennings (C)
Joe Bearman
8 Leo Auva'a

Replacements Arthur Ellis
16 James Tracy
Marc Thomas
17 Jack McGrath
Daniel Suter
18 Martin Moore
James King
19 Ben Marshall
Morgan Allen
20
Jordi Murphy
Kahn Fotuali'i
21 John Cooney
Jonathan Spratt
22 Noel Reid
Ross Jones
23 Sam Coughlan-Murray

Not Considered
due to Injury
Adam Jones,
Scott Baldwin,
Tom Smith,
Tom Habberfield,
Ian Gough,
Ryan Jones

Luke Fitzgerald,
Sean O'Brien,
Mark Flanagan,
Conor Gilsenan,
Dominic Ryan,
Aaron Dundon,
David Doyle,
Luke McGrath,
Quinn Roux,
Rob Kearney,
Darren Hudson,
Isa Nacewa,
Brian O'Driscoll,
Eoin O'Malley

Referee: John Lacey (IRFU),
Assistant Referees: Neil Nennessy, Wayne Davies (both WRU),
TMO: Nigel Whitehouse (WRU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2012-11-02

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