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Ospreys vs Leinster Rugby
Guinness Pro12 Round 12
Liberty Stadium, Swansea,
Friday, 8th January 2016, 19:45

Television: Live - Sky Sports 2

Normally for Leinster the game at this time of year is a bit of a warm-up for key matches in the final two rounds of their European pool. However this season, the final two Champions Cup matches will be played only for Leinster's pride while tomorrow's game against the Ospreys is the key one. Last week's win at a drenched RDS put Leinster ahead of Connacht into second place in the table, just a point behind the Scarlets. With the Scarlets hosting Connacht this weekend, Leinster have a real chance to end the weekend as leaders, with a game in hand. As this is the last Pro12 game in which they'll have access to several of their top Irish internationals until after the Six Nations Championship, they need to make the most of their chance to beat the Ospreys.

It is easier said then done though as the Ospreys are in a rich vein of form and Leinster haven't won in the Liberty Stadium in the league since 2009. It's actually been something of a strange season for the Ospreys, who've traditionally been Wales's strongest challengers in the league. They had a horror start to the campaign during the World Cup, losing five out of their first six games. They've since bounced back though winning their last five league games on the trot and they're now in seventh place in the table, eight points off the lead.

They've also been in good form in Europe in a tough pool featuring Clermont, Exeter and Bordeaux Begles. They currently lead their pool table after winning both their home games and twice securing two bonus points in both their defeats in France by finishing within seven points and scoring four tries. Admittedly Clermont could overtake them if they beat Bordeaux Begles in a match that will be happening at the same time as they play Leinster. However they've still been the best representatives of the Pro12 in the Champions Cup this season, along with Ulster.

Their coach Steve Tandy has picked a side showing eight changes to the team that beat the Dragons on New Years Day. In the pack Paul James, as cunning a prop as you'll find, comes in to captain the side from loosehead in place of Nicky Smith. In the other changes Rory Thornton, James King and Sam Underhill come in to replace three of the Ospreys's key men in Alun Wyn Jones, Dan Lydiate and Justin Tipuric. Lydiate is injured but Jones and Tipuric are named on the bench with a nod to the two tough weeks of European rugby coming up. There are a further four changes in the backline as only the back three is left the same. Dan Biggar and former All Black Brendon Leonard form a very dangerous half back pairing and Jonathan Spratt and Owen Watkin are the new midfield combination.

For Leinster, Leo Cullen has made six changes to the team that started last week. Isa Nacewa returns to captain the side from the right wing in place of the suspended Fergus McFadden. Luke Fitzgerald returns at inside centre which means Ben Te'o is moved out to 13 in place of Garry Ringrose. And, after crying off injured last week, Luke McGrath is fit to be named at scrum-half. In the pack Tadhg Furlong is named at tighthead with Sean O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip returning to the backrow in place of Josh van der Flier and Jordi Murphy. Noel Reid is back after a spell out with injury and is named on the bench. It's a very strong side although some fans may bemoan the absence of some of the younger stars like van der Flier and Ringrose, but this may indicate Cullen wants to give them European rugby experience over the next two weeks.

One of the benefits of Andy Farrell being made Ireland's new defence coach is that our own defence coach Kurt McQuilkin should now be left in situ for a few years and not be picked off by the national team like so many of our coaches in recent years. We're already beginning to see the results of McQuilkin's work with only five tries conceded in the last six league games. It's that type of mean defence that characterised his first spell in charge under Michael Cheika and it will be the bedrock of any potential championship challenge this season.

Leinster shouldn't be lulled into a false sense of security with the Ospreys resting some key men, as they always play well against Leinster no matter who they put out. There will be some intriguing personal battles, no more so between Dan Biggar and Johnny Sexton. After an excellent World Cup, Biggar could legitimately claim to be the best number 10 in Europe and Sexton won't like that one bit. There will also be a massive test of Tadgh Furlong's scrummaging against canny veteran Paul James and referee David Wilkinson will have his usual big influence on matters, for better or worse.

However Leinster are in a good run of form and they might just prevail in what looks like to be a tight, defensive contest with few tries.

Team Lineups

Ospreys

Leinster Rugby
Teams Dan Evans 15 Rob Kearney
Jeff Hassler14 Isa Nacewa (C)
Jonathan Spratt13 Ben Te'o
Owen Watkin12 Luke Fitzgerald
Hanno Dirksen11 Dave Kearney
Dan Biggar10 Johnny Sexton
Brendon Leonard9 Luke McGrath

Paul James (C)1 Jack McGrath
Scott Baldwin 2 Richardt Strauss
Aaron Jarvis3 Tadhg Furlong
Lloyd Ashley4 Devin Toner
Rory Thornton5 Mike McCarthy
James King6 Rhys Ruddock
Sam Underhill7 Sean O'Brien
Dan Baker8 Jamie Heaslip

Replacements Scott Otten 16 Sean Cronin
Nicky Smith17 Peter Dooley
Ma'afu Fia18 Marty Moore
Alun Wyn Jones19 Tom Denton
Justin Tipuric20
Dominic Ryan
Tom Habberfield21 Eoin Reddan
Sam Davies22 Ian Madigan
Eli Walker23 Noel Reid

Not Considered
Due to Injury
Rhys Webb,
Tyler Ardron,
Dmitri Arhip,
Ashley Beck,
Gareth Delve,
Dafydd Howells,
Dan Lydiate,
Josh Matavesi,
Marc Thomas

Jack Conan,
Edward Byrne,
Mick Kearney,
Hayden Triggs,
Isaac Boss
Officials Referee: David Wilkinson (IRFU, 37th competition game),
Assistant Referees: Ben Whitehouse, Simon Rees (both WRU),
Citing Commissioner: Aurwel Morgan (WRU),
TMO: Jon Mason (WRU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2016-01-28

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