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Leinster Rugby vs Ospreys
Royal Dublin Showground, Dublin
Saturday, 5 January 2008, 19:30

Television: Setanta Ireland (Live)

Season Ticket: Magners League Five

After the misery of the Heineken Cup defeat away to Edinburgh, Leinster regained some self-respect with a comprehensive defeat of Ulster on St. Stephen's Day. It was a tough, gritty performance in which the pack was dominant throughout. Despite the 29 point margin of victory and a defensive clean-sheet there was still some griping about the failure to earn a bonus point.

However as a province we need to shift from always focusing on bonus points, especially before the match. Bonus points are just that, a BONUS! It's just one point, the win is four points, but how many times in the past have Leinster blown wins because they've started focusing on the one point before making sure of the four points. Talking about expecting bonus points before a game has even started is very counter-productive. It puts pressure on Leinster while also providing motivation to the opposition.

Leinster have only gained one four-try bonus point this season (away to Cardiff) but still lead the league because they've been more successful overall with only two defeats. The approach of the team has changed this year with more focus on territory and attacking through the pack. This was seen again in the Ulster match as Jonny Sexton kicked from hand superbly, pinning Ulster in their half in a performance that recalled Ronan O'Gara at his best. He also showed some deft hands in setting up Jamie Heaslip's try.

His reward is to keep his place in the team despite the return of Brian O'Driscoll. Felipe Contepomi stays at inside centre and Gordon D'Arcy drops to the bench. Sexton will partner Chris Keane, who finally gets to make his first competitive start since his move from Connacht. He'll be looking to show Michael Chieka that bringing Guy Easterby out of retirement instead of giving him a chance was a mistake. On the right wing Gary Brown gets a start with Luke Fitzgerald moving across to the left wing to replace the injured Rob Kearney.

As in the away match against the Ospreys coach Michael Chieka has opted to rotate his pack. Bench regulars Brian Blaney and Cameron Jowitt make rare starts at hooker and lock respectively and loose head Cian Healy makes his first competitive start after scoring a fine try against Ulster. The backrow is rotated again with Stephen Keogh back in at six and Shane Jennings moving across to open-side. Trevor Hogan returns from long-term injury to start on the bench.

The Ospreys actually did Leinster a favour on New Year's Eve by beating Cardiff, leaving Leinster at the top of the table. It was an impressive performance and would have caused Leinster some worry. However the team that turned out that day bears little relation to the one coach Lyn Jones has named for Saturday. Most of the big names have been left out so fans hoping to see stars like Shane Williams, James Hook, Ryan Jones, Marty Holah etc. will be disappointed. Of the fifteen that started against the Blues, only two players keep their place, prop Paul James and wing Nikki Walker. There is some other decent players involved such as scrum-half Mike Philips, wing Aled Brew and Tongan flanker Hale T-Pole. However it's very much a second-string selection and it's disappointing. This is the type of match that should be a "marquee" fixture, full of star players. Instead, the Ospreys have treated it with contempt (as they did with the same fixture this time last year). It's a sad state of affairs and you wonder how the sponsors feel looking at this.

That said, Leinster have to treat the fixture as seriously as any other. As with previous seasons Leinster have struggled with consistency. However they'll only ever achieve that consistency by approaching every match with the same attitude. Complacency is poison to consistency. Looking at the Ospreys line-up the Leinster players may feel complacent. That complacency has cost them dear in the recent past (see Edinburgh away). They can't allow themselves to fall into that trap again.

Team Lineups
  Leinster Rugby   Ospreys
Teams Girvan Dempsey 15 Jonathan Vaughton
Gary Brown 14 Nikki Walker
Brian O'Driscoll (C) 13 Gareth Owen
Felipe Contepomi 12 Jonathan Spratt
Luke Fitzgerald 11 Aled Brew
Jonathan Sexton 10 Shaun Connor
Chris Keane 9 Mike Phillips
Cian Healy 1 Paul James (C)
Brian Blaney 2 Richard Hibbard
Stan Wright 3 Cai Griffiths
Cameron Jowitt 4 Lyndon Bateman
Malcolm O'Kelly 5 Andrew Lloyd
Stephen Keogh 6 Hale T-Pole
Shane Jennings 7 Ben Lewis
Jamie Heaslip 8 Tom Smith
Replacements Bernard Jackman 16 Ed Shervington
Stephen Knoop 17 Andrew Millward
Trevor Hogan 18 Alun Wyn Jones
Keith Gleeson 19 Filo Tiatia
Guy Easterby 20 Steve Tandy
Gordon D'Arcy 21 Martin Roberts
Christian Warner 22 Adrian Thomas
Not Considered
due to Injury
Shane Horgan
Rob Kearney
Ollie Le Roux
Fergus McFadden
Chris Whitaker
Officials Referee: Peter Allan (SRU)
Sub Referee: Colin Stanley (IRFU)
Touch Judge: Ger English (IRFU)
4th Official: Alan Rogan (ARLB)
5th Official: Ed Kenny (ARLB)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (IRFU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2008-01-04