Leinster get quest for a fourth Heineken Cup crown off to winning start
Irish province without the talismanic presence of Brian O’Driscoll but they were still able to secure what may prove a vital away win
Jamie Heaslip charges up the field as Leinster get their quest for a fourth Heineken Cup crown off to a winning start against Ospreys. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
As momentum shifts go it was pretty seismic. Entering the 26th minute the Ospreys had a penalty five metres out after Richard Hibbard had been tackled short of the line with men outside as they explored a stand-offish fringe defence. Dave Kearney was pinged for not releasing after the tackle. The Ospreys had earned two full penalties and one indirect penalty from their first three scrums and with Mike Ross having departed in the 19th minute to be replaced by the Heineken Cup debutant, Martin Moore, they not unreasonably opted for a five-metre scrum.
It felt like both a seminal and ominous moment. It had been a bad day for Irish rugby until then. That bugbearer Wayne Barnes had been giving Leinster little against their bogey side, who were leading 6-3. The Ospreys had been pushing up hard, chopping low, getting the second man in over the ball and keeping the other 13 in a defensive line as they do, or else pouring into the breakdown with numbers.
They got down for the scrum and stayed down, as they looked for a maximum seven point reward. But not alone did Leinster stay rock solid, it was they who inched forward, with Moore getting inside Duncan Jones to push through between him and Richard Hibbard. Barnes signalled a penalty Leinster. This was probably the biggest moment of Moore’s career, and now it also felt even more like a seminal moment.
Maybe you had to be there but at a stroke, the mood in this strangely subdued ground changed. In what had seemed a forebodingly dark and chilly evening by the coast in south west Wales, the small but noisy band of Leinster supporters made their voices heard. They knew the significance of the moment.
It wasn’t just that the Ospreys had been denied a significant psychological blow and a potential 10-point lead. So much of their game is predicated on their Lions’ infused pack gaining ascendancy, first and foremost at scrum time. Take that pack, and especially scrum, superiority away from them, and you suddenly realise there isn’t an awful lot more to them.
Drilled and focused
Looking superbly drilled and focused admittedly Leinster also defended better, ran harder, and broke more tackles in executing an assured and effective away-day game plan. As you expected they might, Leinster had learned the lessons from the sides’ draw in the RDS four weeks ago by committing much more numbers, and more effectively to the breakdown.
They didn’t let up for 80 minutes and there was no weak link in the chain. Matt O’Connor was fully vindicated in his selection of Isaac Boss and Jimmy Gopperth at halfback. The former’s physicality around the fringes suited the needs of the day and along with him, by and large, Gopperth played the game in the right areas and was virtually flawless in all he did.
In the absence of such a core of leaders who had driven the Leinster machine over the last eight or nine years, it also felt like a baton had been passed on.
O’Brien was all force of nature physicality, outperforming Justin Tipuric and outmuscling any Osprey who came near him, whether barging them out of his path or ripping the ball from him, and Heaslip was at his best combination of athleticism and unstinting and effective workrate. Although Dan Biggar’s short restarts up the middle had plenty of hang time, Kearney augmented Leinster’s scores by rising to gobble them up as he does and helped Leinster have the better of the aerial exchanges.