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Leinster Rugby vs Ospreys
Royal Dublin Showground
Friday, 19 September 2008, 19:35

Television: Live - Setanta Ireland
Season Ticket: Magners League Two - Picture of Rodney O'Donnell

The Magners League has traditionally awoken from its' summer slumber like a grouchy, arthritic old man. It didn't want to be rushed, it wanted to stretch it's legs a little, have a cup of tea and a general dodder about before getting going. This was in a large part due to the Irish management teams' policy of slowly drip-feeding the internationals back in the provincial teams. So September was pretty much a month of development teams with sprinkling of internationals and the quality of the rugby wasn't great.

And there was no point in getting narky about it, if you asked old man Ed, he'd just tell you "Son, that's just the way it is! Some things will never change!" But then things did change and old man Ed was put out to pasture and a dashing young rebel called "The Kid" was now calling the shots. When they told this wild new maverick "that's just the way it is", he cocked his head, laughed and said "Ah, but don't you believe them!"

Now instead of being held back, the internationals were let off the leash from the start and that change in policy has already had an effect. After last weekend's displays by both Leinster and Munster, the Magners League burst into life after only a week's play. Both teams produced try-laden, fifty point wins, with each game producing a hat-trick for the respective local wonder boys Luke Fitzgerald and Keith Earls. Meanwhile, over in Wales both the Ospreys and the Scarlets have started like a bomb with three wins from three. Suddenly there's a real buzz about the league and at a stage of the season where fans are normally wiping the sleep from their eyes, they're now wide awake!

Suddenly the weekend fixtures take on a vital nature already. The Scarlets will look to continue their winning run away to an Edinburgh team desperate to break their duck. The Cardiff Blues go to Munster desperately needing some points from the fixture to keep pace with the early leaders. However, the fixture of the weekend is the clash of the last two champions as Leinster host the Ospreys.

This, of course, should always be a marquee fixture for the League, with two star laden teams. The profile of the league should be promoted on the back of this type of match. However, due to administrative incompetence this has rarely been the case in the last two seasons. Only in one of the last four meetings between the sides have the two real teams had the chance to face off against each other. That was the meeting in April 07 when the Ospreys won 19-17, a result that went a long way to winning them the championship.

The other three games though were rather facile wins for Leinster, as they beat severely depleted Ospreys sides. Squad rotation to accommodate the Anglo-Welsh cup was to blame twice, but in fairness the Ospreys weren't to blame last November when the greedy Welsh Rugby Union arranged a pointless test match against South Africa on a Magners League weekend. This is the same Welsh union who had for years berated the IRFU for not taking the league seriously!

The good news then, for the integrity of the league at least, is that the Ospreys have named a top class team for tomorrow night's match. They're still not quite at full strength with Gavin Henson and Mike Philips not fully recovered from long-term injuries and Shane Williams out due to a dead leg. However it's still a measure of the strength of the Ospreys squad that they can name a twenty-two featuring twelve of the Wales Grand Slam winning squad.

Ryan Jones captains them at number eight. Jones is the early favourite for the Lions captaincy and it's interesting that he'll be coming up against a rival both for the captaincy in Brian O'Driscoll but also a rival for the number eight jersey in Jamie Heaslip. Jones will look to lay down an early marker and the versatile Jonathan Thomas and Steve Tandy will aid him in an impressive backrow. The front five is very familiar with the giant Ian Evans partnered by the more mobile Alun Wyn-Jones in the second row. Adam and Duncan Jones are the props and Huw Bennett throws in.

They had a blow last week when recent Kiwi signing Jamie Nutbrown got injured, and with Mike Philips not back for a few weeks yet, young scrum-half Rhys Webb continues his baptism of fire in the number nine jersey. He'll have the comfort of James Hook outside him though and he's a match-winner all on his own. David and Andrew Bishop make up a physical centre partnership and even in the absence of Shane Williams, they can still name an all-international back three in Lee Byrne, Nikki Walker and Ireland's Tommy Bowe.

Despite last week's excellent performance, Michael Cheika continues to rotate the side. Leo Cullen returns from injury to captain the team from the second row where he'll partner Devin Toner, who showed up well when he came on last week. Malcolm O'Kelly drops to the bench and Trevor Hogan drops out altogether. In the backrow, Sean O'Brien gets a deserved first start in place of Shane Jennings. Jennings takes his place on a bench with five forwards, including Stephen Keogh who makes his first appearance in the squad this season.

There are also changes in the backs. With Jonny Sexton possibly not fully recovered from the knock he took last week, Isa Nacewa starts at out-half for the first time. He was hugely impressive when he took the reins there last week and it will be interesting to see his head-to-head battle with Hook. The only other change is the return of Shane Horgan to the right wing. Luke Fitzgerald moves to the left wing, with Rob Kearney dropping down to the bench.

Despite the changes it's still a formidable Leinster side and with a dry night forecast it could be quite a match. It will be tough, but Leinster to win a high scoring match.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby
Teams Girvan Dempsey 15 Lee Byrne
Shane Horgan
14 Tommy Bowe
Brian O'Driscoll 13 David Bishop
Felipe Contepomi 12 Andrew Bishop
Luke Fitzgerald 11 Nikki Walker
Isa Nacewa
10 James Hook
Chris Whitaker
9 Rhys Webb

Ronan McCormack
1 Duncan Jones
Bernard Jackman 2 Huw Bennett
Stan Wright 3 Adam Jones
Leo Cullen (C)
4 Alun-wyn Jones
Devin Toner
5 Ian Evans
Cameron Jowitt
6 Jonathan Thomas
Sean O'Brien
7 Steve Tandy
Jamie Heaslip 8 Ryan Jones (C)

Replacements Cian Healy
16 Ed Shervington
John Fogarty
17 Paul James
Malcolm O'Kelly
18 Ian Gough
Stephen Keogh
19 Filo Tiatia
Shane Jennings
20 Rhodri Wells
Chris Keane 21 Daniel Biggar
Rob Kearney
22 Johnny Vaughton

Not considered
due to injury
Gordon D'Arcy (arm)
Jonny Sexton (neck)
Trevor Hogan (back)

Officials Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU)
Assistant Referees: George Clancy (IRFU), Darragh McCormack (IRFU)
TMO: Dudley Phillips (IRFU)
4th Official: Brian Montayne (ARLB)
5th Official: Gordon Murray (ARLB)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2008-09-19