Versatile Jamie Osborne timing his form right for Ireland reckoning

Leinster boss hails back’s ‘outstanding moments’ in Champions Cup game against Gloucester

Gloucester 14 Leinster 49

As runs of form go, you’d be hard pressed to find one better timed than Jamie Osborne’s.

Ireland’s Six Nations squad is being announced on Thursday, and Andy Farrell’s assistant coaches Simon Easterby and Mike Catt were eyeing up the lay of the land in Kingsholm on Saturday. What they were looking for during Leinster’s 49-14 win over Gloucester is impossible to say, but a player of the match display from Osborne definitely would have caught the eye.

The accolade was awarded largely on the back of a first half in which the Naas man scored one try and set up another. His clean pair of heels down the right hand flank earned the field position for Leinster’s second try. When he was hauled down close to the line and Seb Atkinson was sent to the bin for infringing at the ruck, another clever Leinster tap penalty play inside the 22 sent Michael Ala’alatoa over the line.

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Osborne’s own score came later in the half, his ability to pick a gap with a hard line cutting against the grain allowing him to cash in on Jamison Gibson-Park’s pinpoint pass right on the gain line. Power and running angles saw him through the gap, but his footwork then took him past the last man for a maiden Champions Cup try.

Such a carrying display came after Osborne’s impressive performance at 13 last weekend away to the Ospreys. In Swansea, his distribution shone as he linked play between the middle of the park and the backthree threats out wide. In two weeks, he has shown his skillset is good enough to perform at a high level across the backline. Lest we forget Osborne has featured plenty of times at fullback for both province and country at underage level.

Such versatility historically has been a desirable trait in Farrell’s selection policy.

“I think certain positions kinda suit certain attributes, like at fullback, I probably get to use my boot a bit more,” explained Osborne on Saturday. “I’m obviously enjoying playing in the centre.

“It’s good to have the versatility but we’ll see where I end up in a few years. It’s tough to know now really. I like playing every week wherever they need me. Probably centre long-term but it’s tough. I wouldn’t like to close off the other positions.”

His Leinster boss, Leo Cullen, acknowledges he might be seeing less of his young back once the Ireland camp starts their Six Nations prep.

“He’s definitely putting his hand up, which is fantastic to see. He’s just getting better all the time, and he’s still incredibly young.

“He came into the group and you could just see the natural ability that he has. He’s very good and composed. It was a good game for Jamie because it’s not an easy place to come, up against a good, experienced team.

“I thought he had some really outstanding moments in the game.”

Osborne earned himself plenty of deserved plaudits, but Caelan Doris ran him close for player of the match. Of Leinster’s four first-half tries, the number eight assisted two and scored one.

He started it all off in the third minute with a deft tip-on pass that put Ala’alatoa through a hole and into the 22; Leinster’s ability to shift the point of contact close to the gain line did untold damage to Gloucester’s defence, to the tune of 34 missed tackles. Off the ensuing penalty lineout, Doris’ carry sucked in defenders before he fed Jordan Larmour behind an Osborne decoy, the wing’s late footwork taking him over the line.

Doris was also the one who supplied Ala’alatoa for the third score with that clever tap and go play, while James Ryan’s latch shunted the Leinster number eight over for the bonus point score right on the stroke of half-time.

After the break, Ross Byrne’s deft inside ball opened another gap when Ryan galloped into the 22. A few phases later, he skilfully managed to bat the ball out to Keenan before a shooter out of the line made his mark, the fullback stepping George Barton all too easily to score out wide.

Inaccuracy from both sides defined the contest from there in, but Leinster did add their sixth and seventh scores when Josh van der Flier dove over from close range and Rónan Kelleher got on the end of a rolling maul.

That score belied how Leinster struggled at maul time as Gloucester earned their only attacking joy through the set-piece. Either side of half-time, two penalty tries were awarded to the hosts’ pack. Andrew Porter and Doris saw yellow for their involvements.

The scrum too was a slight concern, both Porter and Michael Milne conceding penalties on the loosehead side.

Regardless, to see such set-piece deficiencies yet still have the platform to make over 400 metres in attack is testament to Leinster’s peerlessness with ball in hand.

At home to Racing next week, it could well see them lock up the top seed. One step closer to ensuring the road to this year’s title runs through Dublin.

SCORING SEQUENCE – 4 mins: Larmour try, R Byrne con 0-7; 11: Ala’alatoa try, R Byrne con 0-14; 25: Penalty try 7-14; 27: Osborne try, R Byrne con 7-21; 40: Doris try, R Byrne con 7-28; HT 7-28; 45: Keenan try, R Byrne con 7-35; 63: Penalty try 14-35; 71: van der Flier try, H Byrne con 14-42; 78: Kelleher try, H Byrne con 14-49.

GLOUCESTER: George Barton; Jonny May, Chris Harris, Seb Atkinson, Ollie Thorley; Santi Carreras, Ben Meehan; Val Rapava-Ruskin, George McGuigan, Kirill Gotovtsev; Freddie Clarke, Matias Alemanno; Ruan Ackermann, Lewis Ludlow (capt), Ben Morgan.

Replacements: Billy Twelvetrees for Barton (53 mins), Seb Blake for McGuigan (55), Stephen Varney for Meehan, Harry Elrington for Rapava-Ruskin (both 57), Ciaran Knight for Gotovstev, Cam Jordan for Clarke, Jack Clement for Morgan (all 60), Tom Seabrook for Harris (67).

Yellow card: Atkinson (11 mins), Carreras (77).

LEINSTER: Hugo Keenan; Jordan Larmour, Garry Ringrose, Jamie Osborne, Jimmy O’Brien; Ross Byrne, Jamison Gibson-Park; Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan, Michael Ala’alatoa; Ross Molony, James Ryan; Ryan Baird, Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris.

Replacements: Michael Milne for Larmour (34-35 mins) and for Porter (75), Rónan Kelleher for Sheehan, Cian Healy, for Ala’alatoa, Harry Byrne for Ross Byrne (all 52), Jack Conan for Baird, Nick McCarthy for Gibson-Park (all 56), Brian Deeny for Ross Molony, Liam Turner for Ringrose (both 75).

Yellow cards: Porter (25 mins), Doris (63).

Referee: Pierre Brousset (France).

Nathan Johns

Nathan Johns

Nathan Johns is an Irish Times journalist