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Leinster Rugby vs Ospreys
RDS Showground, Dublin,
Friday, 3rd May 2013, 19:45

Television: Live - TG4, S4C

It's been quite a busy week for Leinster.

Last Saturday's Amlin cup match turned out to be a handy hit-out against a Biarritz team who showed exactly why they are in the bottom four of the Top 14. On a wonderful sunny day, Leinster scored five tries for the second time running in the competition as they tore the one dimensional Basques apart and essentially had the game won by half-time. Like an old-school French team, once Biarritz had lost they set about settling a few scores and there were some nasty off the ball incidents and some embarrassingly childish moments from players who should know better. But it was an enjoyable game overall although there are much tougher tests coming up.

Then on Monday, the worst-kept secret in Ireland was finally confirmed when Joe Schmidt was appointed Ireland coach, meaning he'll leave Leinster at the end of the season. He had another season of his contract to run with Leinster, but they gave their blessing to him to leave early and sign a three-year deal with Ireland. Of course everyone will hope he can replicate the success he had in his three years with Leinster. It won't be easy, but if anyone can do it, Joe can. When he first arrived at Leinster, he had a big act to follow in Michael Cheika, but after a slow start Joe got them playing some of their finest rugby ever, but also with a hard edge. That he's had the success he's had with no one in the game having a bad word to say about him tells you a lot too. He's not just a great coach, he's a great human being and everyone at Leinster will miss him, while also looking forward to what he can do with the national side.

Then yesterday, the Lions tour squad was announced and Leinster provided six of the 37-man squad, the joint highest representation from a club side along with the Leicester Tigers. This equals the number named in 2005, although that was a larger squad. Cian Healy, Sean O'Brien and Jonathan Sexton were named in their first ever squad and Jamie Heaslip and Rob Kearney were named in their second. Brian O'Driscoll was named in his fourth squad though, something that may never be repeated again in the professional game. It wasn't all smiles though, Mike Ross was unlucky to miss out and Ian Madigan and Richardt Strauss were outside bets that didn't come off. Overall the lads will be delighted though and congratulations to them all.

However all this news will need to be parked because Leinster have a big match tomorrow night against the team they hate playing the most. The Ospreys have never achieved much in Europe, failing to qualify from their group in the Heineken Cup in the last three years and never getting further than the quarter-finals. However they're the most successful team in the league having it won it four times, including beating Leinster in two out of the last three Grand Finals. To add injury to insult, the Ospreys beat them twice at the RDS last season, both times winning with the final kick of the game. Leinster are still sickened when they think of that defeat in the Grand Final, even in an unbeaten European season, it still left a bitter taste in their mouths.

Leinster have a chance to get a bit of revenge tomorrow however. Not only will a win guarantee them home advantage for the semi-finals, it will also eliminate the Ospreys from the play-offs. Ospreys looked to be their traditional late run for the play-offs when on a five-match unbeaten run coming into the key match against Glasgow two weeks ago. However Glasgow thumped them 35-17 and delivered an almost certainly fatal blow to their hopes of making the top four. Now Ospreys are looking for a bit of a miracle needing the Scarlets to lose at home to Treviso, while they win in the RDS. They've been hit by injuries too and have lost most of their first-choice three-quarter line as well as their world-class scrum-half Kahn Fotuali'i.

However that won't mean for a second that they'll roll over and die and they've still named a strong squad featuring four of their five Lions, with only hooker Richard Hibbard absent due to a minor knock. Alun Wyn Jones skippers the team from the second row and partners promising youngster James King. Justin Tipuric starts in the unusual position of blindside with Sam Lewis and Joe Bearman completing the back row. Adam Jones, the favourite for the Lions test tighthead spot, forms the front row with Duncan Jones and Scott Baldwin. Their other Lion Ian Evans is on the bench.

In the backs Richard Fussell, who always does damage to Leinster with his intelligent counter-attacking, is at full back with Tom Habberfield and former Leinster under-age cap Ross Jones on the wings. Powerful centre Ashley Beck is back to partner Ben John in midfield. Out-half Dan Biggar has the unwelcome distinction to be the only member of the Welsh starting team that beat England not to be named in the Lions squad. That alone will give him plenty of motivation especially as he's up against Jonny Sexton, who is on the plane. He partners Rhys Webb, whose career has stalled somewhat after a promising start. It's far from a full strength team, but it's still pretty handy.

Somewhat surprisingly, Joe Schmidt have made quite a few changes to last week's team although admittedly several are due to injuries. There is only one personnel change in the backline with Brian O'Driscoll given a bit of a rest with a spot on the bench. This means Fergus McFadden moves to outside centre and Andrew Conway takes his place on the right wing. There are six changes to the pack though with only Leo Cullen and Shane Jennings retaining their jerseys from last week. Jack McGrath, Sean Cronin and Jamie Hagan form an all-new front row and Quinn Roux is back to partner Cullen in the second row. Rhys Ruddock and Sean O'Brien join Shane Jennings in the back row with O'Brien getting a chance to show his wares at number eight.

Leinster have won just one of their last seven contests with Ospreys, 15-10 at the RDS in January 2011. They will be desperate for revenge over them but with both teams somewhat under-strength this game could end up going down to the wire again. Hopefully Leinster can do the job though and see out their season in the RDS.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby
Teams Rob Kearney
15 Richard Fussell
Andrew Conway 14 Tom Habberfield
Fergus McFadden 13 Ashley Beck
Ian Madigan12 Ben John
Isa Nacewa 11 Ross Jones
Jonathan Sexton 10 Dan Biggar
Isaac Boss 9 Rhys Webb

Jack McGrath 1 Duncan Jones
Sean Cronin 2 Scott Baldwin
Jamie Hagan 3 Adam Jones
Leo Cullen (C)
4 Alun Wyn Jones (C)
Quinn Roux
5 James King
Rhys Ruddock 6 Justin Tipuric
Shane Jennings 7 Sam Lewis
Sean O'Brien 8 Joe Bearman

Replacements Richardt Strauss 16 Dmitri Arhip
Cian Healy 17 Ryan Bevington
Michael Bent 18 Cai Griffiths
Devin Toner 19 Ian Evans
Dominic Ryan 20 Morgan Allen
John Cooney 21 Matthew Morgan
Andrew Goodman 22 Tom Isaacs
Brian O'Driscoll 23 Jonathan Spratt
Not considered
due to injury
Jordan Coghlan,
Jack Conan,
David Doyle,
Tadgh Furlong,
Darren Hudson,
Damien Browne,
Eoin Reddan,
Luke Fitzgerald,
Eoin O'Malley,
Brendan Macken,
Heinke van der Merwe,
Dave Kearney,
Gordon D'Arcy,
Jordi Murphy,
Ben Marshall,
Tom Denton,
Jamie Heaslip,
Kevin McLaughlin,
Mike Ross,
Fionn Carr 
  Kahn Fotuali'i,
Richard Hibbard,
Ryan Jones,
Eli Walker,
Andrew Bishop,
Hanno Dirksen,
Tom Smith,
Aaron Jarvis
Match Officials Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU),
Assistant Referees: Mark Patton, Stuart Gaffikin (both IRFU),
4th Official: David Keane (Leinster Rugby Referees),
5th Official: Gary Conway (Leinster Rugby Referees),
TMO: Alan Rogan (IRFU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2013-05-02