Leinster hope to shake off early season rust and dispatch some familiar foes in Opsreys
Leinster beef up their pack for visit of Welsh nemesis
Kevin McLaughlin is one of the changes in a strengthened Leinster pack for the clash with the Ospreys. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
These two have had a couple of Grand Final shoot-outs in the last four seasons, making the champions’ first home game of the season one of the stand-out fixtures of the Rabo Pro12 calendar. There’s added intrigue in the prospect of them renewing hostilities again four weeks hence in a Heineken Cup pool opener in Swansea, though the temptation to keep their powder dry will be hard to resist.
During the week Eoin Reddan admitted that this match-up had crept up a little early in the sides’ respective season – as their first meeting usually does. In truth, the pity is that it has crept up so soon, given the absence of so many stellar names still inching their way back from Lions duty.
In addition to Leinster’s missing quintet, the Lions’ winning captain from the third Test, Alun Wyn Jones, along with the tour’s outstanding player, Leigh Halfpenny, are another week away from returning to action, while Adam Jones and Richard Hibbard are on a heavyweight bench.
This is the same formula as last week in Treviso, save for another Lion, Ian Evans, being promoted from the bench in place of the injured Ryan Jones (shoulder), when the Ospreys demonstrated typical obduracy, resilience and set-piece strength in avenging their opening day loss in Stadio Monigo of a year ago.
The departure of the outstanding Samoan scrumhalf Kahn Fotuali’I to Northampton compounded the long-term injury to Rhys Webb but their new recruit from Zebre, Tito Tebaldi, made an impressive debut. With a driving maul, strong set-piece and a kicking scrum-half to supplement a good defence – not to mention Dan Biggar, a regular thorn in Leinster’s side – this Ospreys team ought to be a severe test.
No doubt mindful of the Ospreys’ potency up front, Matt O’Connor has changed half his pack, by promoting the renowned scrummaging of Mike Ross and Mike McCarthy from the bench, while also pitching Richardt Strauss and Kevin McLaughlin in from the start.
Otherwise though, true to his avowed desire to maintain a degree of continuity, Leinster’s new coach has named an unchanged backline, with Fergus McFadden’s hamstring meaning Brendan Macken retains his place at centre. Thus Ian Madigan has to be content with a place on the bench for his seasonal return to action after Jimmy Gopperth’s eye-catching 22-point debut last week away to the Scarlets.
The latter may have finished above the Ospreys by a place last season, but amongst the Leinster squad and supporters this evening’s visitors would be regarded as an altogether bigger danger.