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Ospreys vs Leinster Rugby
Heineken Cup, Pool 1, Match 1
Liberty Stadium, Swansea,
Saturday, 12th October 2013, 18:00

Television: Live - Sky Sports 2, Highlights TG4 21:30

So once more with feeling!

For the nineteenth and almost certainly the last time, Leinster launch into a Heineken Cup campaign with a trip to Swansea to face the Ospreys. Let's face it, even if an agreement is reached with the greedy English and self-centred French clubs, the tournament will never be the same again. A 20-team tournament with up to the 70% clubs from only two countries can't seriously call itself a European tournament. The thought of the pool stages being dominated by games between teams from the same country is depressing indeed.

Today on BT Sports, a top European double bill featuring Sale v Saracens followed by Castres v Perpignan!!!

Anyone? Anyone?

Also the French-sponsored notion of having the quarter-finals lumped into January and the semi-finals and final done and dusted by April will surely damage the prestige of the tournament. The French clubs clearly feel that any future tournament is an inconvenience to be got through until they can get back to playing endless play-off rounds of the turgid kick-fest that is Top14 rugby. In their desperation to conquer and destroy the Celts and the Italians, the English clubs have backed the French on this but they're too dumb to realise that a downgraded tournament will lose the interest of the French very quickly and all they'll end up with will be a garlicky version of the Anglo-Welsh Cup. Let's see if the carpet-baggers at BT sports will keep paying big money for that.

Whatever happens, a 20-team tournament will make it a lot easier to qualify from the pools and the excitement of going into the final round of matches with everyone watching the other games will be largely gone too. But we have one more year of the Heineken Cup, European rugby at its finest, so let's enjoy it while we can.

As befits the top-ranked team in Europe, Leinster have arguably the toughest pool in the tournament featuring the French Champions Castres, the English runners-up in Northampton and the Ospreys, Leinster's bogey team and themselves Pro12 champions only two seasons ago. It's certainly a tough pool but sometimes the tougher the pool the more it concentrates minds. Last season's pool featuring Clermont, Exeter and Scarlets didn't seem as tough and perhaps it contributed to a sense of complacency. This led to Leinster having a sluggish start in their opening two games which ultimately cost them a place in the quarter-finals. This time, there can be no complacency as Leinster know they're on a tightrope when one slip can be fatal. The last time Leinster had a pool this tough was three seasons ago when they had Clermont, Saracens and Racing Metro and the intensity of it produced their best Heineken Cup campaign ever, culminating with a win in Cardiff. Let's hope history repeats itself but it will require a massive amount of work.

The order of the games hasn't done them any favours either with two very tough away games in the first three matches at Ospreys and Northampton. Leinster will need to win at least one of them to be in any shape to qualify after Christmas. Leinster come into the game under a fair bit of pressure too after another poor performance away to Munster last week. They lost their winning run against them although that won't have hurt as much as the way they played. The pack was bullied, especially at the breakdown and the backs weren't much better, only breaking the line on one occasion. As in the game away to Glasgow, they never really looked like scoring a try and played with no pace or invention.

The only consolation is that it will have been an angry squad in training this week, making demands of themselves and each other. Much has been made of the absence of leaders like Leo Cullen, Shane Jennings and Brian O'Driscoll last week but players like Jamie Heaslip, Sean O'Brien and Gordon D'Arcy will be insulted by the notion that they're not leadership material. Things will have been spiky all week and hopefully it will produce a top-class performance because it is certainly needed.

Ospreys are a curious team in that they've never reproduced their league form in Europe. Their home form is very good, indeed Saracens are the only team to beat them at home in the last eight seasons in this tournament. They've taken plenty of big scalps too in the likes of Leicester, Toulon, Clermont, Munster and Toulouse. However their away form has generally been disastrous having failed to win a single away game in their pool for the last three seasons. It's all the more puzzling for Leinster fans who have grown weary of Ospreys teams turning up full of confidence at the RDS and more often than not leaving with a result.

Only four weeks ago the Ospreys were at it again at the RDS, turning around a bad start to leave Leinster grateful for taking a point in a 29-all draw. The game played out in an all too familiar way. Leinster got off to a good start and built a decent lead. But the Ospreys hung on in there, and eked out some scores from the ever reliable Dan Biggar. Then they struck with some excellent counter-attacking tries and really should have won the game. The Ospreys may not be the best team Leinster have played over the last few seasons, but it's hard to think of a team they like playing less.

The Ospreys did hit a bit of a bump last week however, when they let a 12-0 lead slip against Ulster to end up going down 18-12. Perhaps when they'd the lead built up, they let their minds wander to this game.

The Ospreys have named a familiar looking team with five Lions in the pack in

Richard Hibbard, Adam Jones, Alun Wyn Jones, Ryan Jones and Justin Tipuric. Dan Biggar and Tito Tebaldi are the half-backs and Eli Walker and Ashley Beck are the danger-men in the outside backs.

Leinster have made three changes to the team that started last week. Brian O'Driscoll has lost his fitness race and with Lote Tuqiri also injured, Brendan Macken takes the number 13 jersey for his first Heineken Cup start. The other two changes are in the half-back line where Jimmy Gopperth and Isaac Boss come in for Ian Madigan and Eoin Reddan.

Leinster have only won two of the last nine meetings between the two sides. They have always struggled to get through the Ospreys rush defence and it would be worth remembering that when they beat them last season three of their four tries came from smart tactical kicking. If Leinster can't go through them, they need to go around or over them, but they can't just keep bashing away inanely until they lose the ball.

This is the first real big test of Matt O'Connor's coaching credentials tomorrow and he'll need to come up with something special to get a win tomorrow evening.

Team Lineups


Leinster Rugby
Teams Richard Fussell 15 Rob Kearney
Ben John 14 Fergus McFadden
Andrew Bishop 13 Brendan Macken
Ashley Beck 12 Gordon D'Arcy
Eli Walker 11 Dave Kearney
Dan Biggar 10 Jimmy Gopperth
Tito Tebaldi 9 Isaac Boss

Duncan Jones 1 Cian Healy
Richard Hibbard 2 Sean Cronin
Adam Jones 3 Mike Ross
Alun Wyn Jones (C)
4 Devin Toner
James King 5 Mike McCarthy
Ryan Jones 6 Kevin McLaughlin
Justin Tipuric 7 Sean O'Brien
Joe Bearman 8 Jamie Heaslip (C)

Replacements Scott Baldwin 16 Aaron Dundon
Ryan Bevington 17 Jack McGrath
Aaron Jarvis 18 Martin Moore
Tyler Ardron 19 Quinn Roux
Sam Lewis 20
Rhys Ruddock
Tom Habberfield 21 Eoin Reddan
Matthew Morgan 22 Ian Madigan
Jeff Hassler 23 Luke Fitzgerald

Not Considered
due to Injury
Dmitri Arhip,
Hanno Dirksen,
Ross Jones,
Tom Smith,
Rhys Webb

Michael Bent,
Andrew Goodman,
Leo Cullen,
Shane Jennings,
Jordi Murphy,
Richardt Strauss,
Brian O'Driscoll,
Lote Tuqiri
Officials Referee: Wayne Barnes (RFU),
Assistant Referees: Tim Wigglesworth, Paul Dix (both RFU),
TMO: Geoff Warren (RFU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2013-10-18