Revenge on cards despite absences
THE TEMPTATION to emboss a revenge motif onto the front of a script for this RaboDirect Pro12 match is tempered by the fact that many of the players who collided in a three-game tussle last season are otherwise engaged this weekend.
The Ospreys completed a league double over Leinster and then much to the chagrin of the Irish province made it a hat-trick of victories when they pitched up to the RDS for the Pro12 final and pick-pocketed their hosts in a frenetic finale to a pulsating contest.
The Welsh franchise has nine players away on international duty. Lions tighthead Adam Jones is injured, so too Ian Gough which potentially leaves them a little lightweight in the pack. They give a debut to hooker Matt Dwyer. Jonathan Thomas, ostensibly a backrow, plays alongside Lloyd Peers in the secondrow; the latter is making his first league start for the Ospreys.
The hard hitting George Stowers is named in the breakaway unit alongside the former Dragon Joe Bearman. The challenge for the home side will be snaffling enough possession to give their talented young, three quarter line a chance to showcase their that ability: in South African born Hanno Dirksen and Eli Walker, they possess quick, elusive wings.
Their bench contains former Castleknock College pupil Ross Jones. He was born in Llanelli, spent 10 years in Ireland and while here played for the Leinster and Ireland Schools; although he harboured an ambition to play for Wales from a young age. He gratefully accepted an offer to join the Ospreys and last season played for in the Under-20 Six Nations for the Principality.
Leinster coach Joe Schmidt retains just three of the side – Ian Madigan, Dave Kearney and Devin Toner – that started against the Blues. Madigan is redeployed to his more natural role of outhalf while Dave Kearney takes temporary ownership of a familiar family possession, the Leinster number 15 jersey.
The auditions to fill the role vacated by the injured Brian O’Driscoll begin tomorrow with Brendan Macken given first opportunity to develop further reasonably impressive playing cameos this season. He’ll partner newcomer, Andrew Goodman, who arrived in Dublin earlier this week. The 30-year-old is accompanied by a reputation for being a decent playmaker, whether at outhalf or inside centre.
The presence of Richardt Strauss and Seán Cronin in the Ireland squad and an injury to Aaron Dundon means that Leinster are rather depleted numbers wise at hooker, illustrated by the fact that James Treacy, a loosehead prop, has been practising his lineout throwing for a number of weeks. Schmidt will be hoping that the promising Tom Sexton, who starts, stays healthy.
The side will be led by Shane Jennings. He’s having an outstanding season, consistently excellent. There are a number of Leinster players who need to grasp the opportunity of game time to make a positive impression.
Michael Bent and Goodman have arrived from New Zealand, Eoin O’Malley is on the cusp of a return following knee surgery and it won’t be too long until Luke Fitzgerald, Seán O’Brien and Dominic Ryan complicate the selection conundrum further. It’ll be getting crowded on the training paddock.
Getting a chance is one thing but taking it is far more important.
Tomorrow afternoon it’s not about the players that Leinster are missing – it’s applicable to the Ospreys’ circumstances too. It centres on those who effectively blur the lines when comparisons are drawn. The incentive is massive.
OSPREYS: R Fussell; H Dirksen, T Isaacs, A Bishop, E Walker; M Morgan, R Webb; D Jones, M Dwyer, J Rees; L Peers, J Thomas (capt); G Stowers, S Lewis, J Bearman. Replacements: A Ellis, M Thomas, D Suter, J King, M Allen, K Fortuali’i, J Sprat, R Jones.
LEINSTER:D Kearney; A Conway, B Macken, A Goodman, F Carr; I Madigan, I Boss; H van der Merwe, T Sexton, J Hagan; D Browne, D Toner; R Ruddock, S Jennings (capt), L Auva’a. Replacements: J Treacy, J McGrath, M Moore, B Marshall, J Murphy, J Cooney, N Reid, S Coghlan-Murray.
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland).
Verdict: Leinster to win.