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Leinster Rugby vs Ospreys
RaboDirect Pro12 Round 2
RDS Showground, Dublin
Saturday, 14th September 2013, 18:15

Television: Live - RTE2

As starts go, new Leinster coach Matt O'Connor couldn't have wished for a better one. With Leinster's abysmal recent opening day record, things appeared to be going the normal route when the Scarlets took a 13-0 lead after 20 minutes. However Leinster scrambled well in the first half to only be six points behind at half time. Then in the second half, they upped the pace and blew the Scarlets away with a mixture of power, pace and skill to run out 23 point winners with a four-try bonus point to boot.

This was best illustrated by the wonderful interplay between Jordi Murphy, Sean Cronin and Jack McGrath which set up Darren Hudson's match-winning try. O'Connor will also have been delighted with the display from new out-half Jimmy Gopperth who finished the game with seven placed kicks from nine and a try to boot for a total of twenty two points. It wasn't all perfect though, the scrum struggled at times, the defence was very poor in the opening half and the discipline was also a worry with three yellow cards in one game (Leinster only got ten in total last season).

So while O'Connor will be delighted to have gotten his first win earlier than Joe Schmidt or Michael Cheika did, he will know his team rode their luck at times and will need to improve to beat the Ospreys. The Ospreys have the best record against Leinster of any other team in the league having won six out of the last eight meetings. As Leinster have been drawn in the same Heineken Cup pool as them for the first time, this will be the first of, at least, four meetings this season.

Last season Leinster took particular satisfaction in finally beating the Ospreys in the RDS, which also effectively knocked them out of the play-offs. Yet even in that match, the 37-19 scoreline doesn't tell the true story of the game as the Ospreys make Leinster fight every inch of the way. Not making the knock-out stages of either competition last season was a blow to the Ospreys. There was a further blow when they lost their world-class Samoan scrum-half Kahn Fotuali'i to Northampton. Italian scrum-half Titi Tebaldi was signed as something of a replacement but there's a gulf in class between the two.

They still shouldn't be underestimated though, they still have their five Lions forwards in Adam Jones, Alun Wyn Jones, Ian Evans, Richard Hibbard and Justin Tipuric. Dan Biggar is still a points machine for them at out-half and they have some exciting young backs in Eli Walker, Matthew Morgan, Ashley Beck and Sam Davies who was voted IRB young player of the year after some outstanding displays in the Junior World Cup.

They've named a team showing just one change from the team that started their narrow win away to Treviso on the opening weekend. While Leinster's Lions tourists are still being rested three of the Ospreys Lions are in the match-day squad with Ian Evans starting and Richard Hibbard and Adam Jones on the bench. Evans comes in for Ryan Jones in the second row in the only change to the starting line-up from last week. Aside from Evans and Joe Bearman, their pack is a little inexperienced but if they can generate so decent ball they have some dangerous outside backs in Eli Walker, Richard Fussell and Andrew Bishop.

For Leinster it's still a case of balancing who's available and they've named a team showing four changes, all in the pack, from the team that took the field last week. Mike McCarthy, who came off the bench to make his Leinster debut last week, makes his first start in the blue jersey alongside Devin Toner in the second row. Three other Ireland internationals, Richardt Strauss, Mike Ross and Kevin McLaughlin all come into the starting line-up. In the backline Luke Fitzgerald has shaken off the injury which forced his early withdrawal last week and is named on the left wing. Brendan Macken went well in the centre last week and will hope to continue that form. Ian Madigan could make his seasonal debut if he's sprung from the bench and after a certain viral video campaign did the rounds during the week, his team-mates will be very wary of his bullet passes.

Once again it's a stronger Leinster line-up that we're used to at this stage of the season and they should be good enough to win with something to spare. That being said, the Ospreys nearly always make life difficult for Leinster even when they send over weakened teams so don't expect one-way traffic.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby
Teams Dave Kearney
15 Richard Fussell
Darragh Fanning 14 Ben John
Brendan Macken 13 Andrew Bishop
Gordon D'Arcy 12 Ashley Beck
Luke Fitzgerald 11 Eli Walker
Jimmy Gopperth 10 Dan Biggar
Eoin Reddan 9 Tito Tebaldi

Jack McGrath 1 Ryan Bevington
Richardt Strauss 2 Scott Baldwin
Mike Ross 3 Joe Rees
Devin Toner 4 Ian Evans
Mike McCarthy 5 James King
Kevin McLaughlin 6 Tom Smith (C)
Shane Jennings (C)
7 Sam Lewis
Jordi Murphy 8 Joe Bearman

Replacements Sean Cronin 16 Richard Hibbard
Jack O'Connell 17 Duncan Jones
Martin Moore 18 Adam Jones
Tom Denton 19 Tyler Ardron
Rhys Ruddock 20 Morgan Allen
Isaac Boss 21 Tom Grabham
Ian Madigan 22 Matthew Morgan
Darren Hudson 23 Jeff Hassler

Not Considered
due to Injury
Michael Bent,
Quinn Roux,
Andrew Goodman,
Fergus McFadden

Dmitri Arhip,
Hanno Dirksen,
Tom Habberfield,
Dafydd Howells,
Aaron Jarvis,
Lloyd Peers,
Rhys Webb,
Ryan Jones,
Aaron Jarvis
Match Officials Referee: Leighton Hodges (WRU),
Assistant Referees: Peter Fitzgibbon, Michael Black (both IRFU),
4th Official: Ed Kenny (Leinster Rugby Referees),
5th Official: Simon Owens (Leinster Rugby Referees),
TMO: Brian MacNeice (IRFU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2013-09-13