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RDS Showground, Dublin
Friday, 16th April 2010, 19:05

Television: Live: Setanta Sports 1

Last Friday was simply one of the great nights at the RDS. Clermont were possibly the finest team Leinster have ever hosted and they brought with them three thousand fans who were quite magnificent. Leinster has never seen a travelling support from France like it, from their march out of town to the ground to the colour, noise and passion they brought to the match itself. They were also very gracious in defeat after the match, despite their crushing disappointment. Dublin publicans certainly did very well out of them and will look forward to the next time they visit!

The Clermont fans made the RDS crowd raise their game and it was a cracking atmosphere throughout the match. Both sides seemed to feed off it and the game more than lived up to the hype. Clermont played some fantastic rugby and really pushed Leinster to the absolute limit. The game ebbed and flowed as the lead swung between the teams. The normally unflappable Brock James had a poor night with the boot but the pressure in the Heineken Cup knock-out stages can do the strangest things to players.

The media consensus was that Leinster were lucky and certainly they enjoyed some good fortune but what was largely missed was the character they showed. At times Clermont looked like blowing them away but they kept coming back. Their reaction to conceding Malzieu's third try was telling. In the past Leinster sides would have fallen apart at that stage but this team didn't panic. They knew they had time to get back down the pitch to get the scores they needed and they did just that. After taking a lot of flak in recent times, Jonny Sexton stepped up and got the kicks that mattered. The fact that he did it with a fractured jaw only further serves to make fools of those who question his "bottle".

Unfortunately that injury will keep Sexton out for a few weeks and he, along with Rob Kearney and Brian O'Driscoll, will be touch and go for the semi-final in Toulouse. But that's two weeks away and for now it's back to business in the Magners League with the visit of the second placed Ospreys tomorrow evening.

It's a measure of the strength of Leinster's squad that they can bring in three players of the quality of Shaun Berne, Fergus McFadden and Girvan Dempsey to replace Sexton, O'Driscoll and Kearney respectively. These three players were vitally important to Leinster maintaining their unbeaten run while the internationals were away for the Six Nations and should slot back in seamlessly. The only other changes in the team concern the two props where Cian Healy and Mike Ross start. Stan Wright gets a deserved rest from starting after some recent Herculean efforts and van der Linde drops out of the squad due to a reoccurrence of his toe injury, though that's not thought to be too serious.

So, it's another strong team from Leinster and a statement of intent that they want to get the home semi-final sown up as quickly as possible. A win tomorrow would all but secure that and it would give Michael Cheika the leeway to rest players for the upcoming away trips to Glasgow and Connacht.

The Ospreys were also involved in a classic Heineken Cup quarter-final last weekend. By remarkable coincidence that finished 29-28 as well, with a last-minute drop goal drifting wide. Unfortunately for them, the Ospreys were on the wrong end of the score-line in Biarritz. Much of the post match talk focused of the failure of referee George Clancy to give them a last minute penalty. However, if the Ospreys are honest with themselves, they will know they should have had the game well won by then.

In the first half especially, they repeatedly tore through the Biarritz defence but couldn't capitalise on their chances and only had one try to show for it when they could realistically have had four by half-time. Even at the end, a touch more composure could have seen them home but it wasn't to be. So it's just the league that the Ospreys have to concentrate on now and they revived their chances of making the top four with a 38-27 win over Ulster on Tuesday evening. It was another game that could have gone either way but this time the Ospreys were more clinical in taking their chances for a bonus point win.

After sending out a very strong midweek team in Belfast, it was largely assumed that they'd send out a fairly weakened team tomorrow. However that hasn't proved to be the case as they've once again named a very strong team with six top players starting their third match in a week. Lee Byrne, Shane Williams, Dan Biggar in the backs and Jerry Collins, Marty Holah and Adam Jones in the forwards all trebling up. The decision to stay in Ireland and effectively make it a mini-tour has obviously bonded the squad and made players want to step up. It's a risky strategy as fatigue is bound to be a factor at some stage but you have to admire their players' commitment, especially tight-head prop Jones.

Overall there are seven changes to the Ospreys team that started on Tuesday. In the backs Nikki Walker, Andrew Bishop and Jamie Nutbrown come in which means Tommy Bowe is rested and James Hook and Mike Philips are on the bench. In the pack Paul James, Ed Shervington, Alun Wyn Jones and Filo Tiatia come in to what is a very strong eight. With captain Ryan Jones on the bench, former All Black Collins leads the team out.

For the past few seasons, circumstances have dictated that the Ospreys have never brought their best side to Dublin. However, despite not being full strength, this is the strongest side they've put out here in a long time. It's a team full of match-winners and they will seriously test Leinster's unbeaten run. It's going to be a very tough encounter but hopefully Leinster will continue to show their hard-nosed professionalism to notch up another win.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby

Ospreys
Teams Girvan Dempsey 15 Lee Byrne
Shane Horgan
14 Nikki Walker
Fergus McFadden 13 Sonny Parker
Gordon D'Arcy
12 Andrew Bishop
Isa Nacewa 11 Shane Williams
Shaun Berne 10 Dan Biggar
Eoin Reddan
9 Jamie Nutbrown

Cian Healy
1 Paul James
John Fogarty
2 Ed Shervington
Mike Ross 3 Adam Jones
Leo Cullen (C)
4 Ian Gough
Nathan Hines
5 Alun Wyn Jones
Kevin McLaughlin 6 Jerry Collins (C)
Shane Jennings
7 Marty Holah
Jamie Heaslip
8 Filo Tiatia

Replacements 7 From
Richardt Strauss
Stan Wright
Malcolm O'Kelly
Stephen Keogh
Paul O'Donohoe
Eoin O'Malley
Andrew Conway
Simon Keogh
16 Scott Baldwin
17 Craig Mitchell
18 Ian Evans
19 Ryan Jones
20 Mike Phillips
21 James Hook
22 Gareth Owen

Not Considered
due to Injury
Luke Fitzgerald
Sean O'Brien
Ian McKinley
Jonathan Sexton
Rob Kearney
Brian O'Driscoll
CJ van der Linde

Ross Davies
Duncan Jones
Tom Isaacs
Lyndon Bateman
Barry Davies
Richard Hibbard.
Officials Referee: Peter Allan (SRU)
Assistant Referees: Leo Colgan (IRFU), Peter Roche (IRFU)
4th Official: Brian Montayne (ARLB)
5th Official: Danny Wallace (ARLB)
TMO: Alan Rogan (IRFU)

OSPREYS

15 Lee Byrne
14 Nikki Walker
13 Sonny Parker
12 Andrew Bishop
11 Shane Williams
10 Dan Biggar
9 Jamie Nutbrown

1 Paul James
2 Ed Shervington
3 Adam Jones
4 Ian Gough
5 Alun Wyn Jones
6 Jerry Collins (Capt)
7 Marty Holah
8 Filo Tiatia

REPLACEMENTS:


16 Scott Baldwin
17 Craig Mitchell
18 Ian Evans
19 Ryan Jones
20 Mike Phillips
21 James Hook
22 Gareth Owen

Not Considered due to Injury: Ross Davies, Duncan Jones, Tom Isaacs, Lyndon Bateman, Barry Davies, Richard Hibbard.

REFEREE: Peter Allan (SRU), ASSISTANT REFEREES: Leo Colgan (IRFU), Peter Roche (IRFU), 4th OFFICIAL: Brian Montayne (ARLB), 5th OFFICIAL: Danny Wallace (ARLB), TMO: Alan Rogan (IRFU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2010-04-15

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