Leinster ready to finally clip the wings of Ospreys
Familiar Welsh foes have showed themselves to be proven party-poopers
Leinster’s Jamie Heaslip in action against Ospreys in their previous Heineken Cup Pool One game last October. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
By rights this should be one of the highlights of Leinster’s season. Although merely a point will suffice, a win would be the proper way of marking their return to the Heineken Cup knockout stages after missing out last season, as well as marking the return of Richardt Strauss. Yet lurking in the long grass are the Ospreys, proven party poopers hereabouts.
Notions that the Ospreys might arrive in the RDS of all places and roll over and have their bellies tickled was perhaps always a bit fanciful, and in any case even a cursory glance at their teamsheet quickly dispels the notion.
The first name which Leinster would probably have checked is that of Dan Biggar, who has nailed last-ditch kicks to clinch two wins and a draw in three of his last five visits to the venue. Biggar clearly likes the RDS, for in those five games he has scored 64 points.
Steady the scrum
However, it’s not just him. Despite having nothing tangible to play for and their own five-day turnaround, all nine of the Ospreys in Wales’ squad for the forthcoming Six Nations have been included in their starting line-up, showing just four changes from last week.
This means a recall for Adam Jones. While there has been some evidence that his powers have been on the wane this season with the changed scrum regulations, his introduction did help steady the scrum against Northampton last week.
The 89-times capped Wales tighthead is also one of four Lions in their pack and any team led by Alun-Wyn Jones is hardly going to take a fixture lightly, least of all when renewing acquaintances with their familiar Leinster and Ireland foes, four of whom also travelled to Australia last summer.
That one of them, Cian Healy, was recalled to the starting line-up was little surprise after his barnstorming influence off the bench last week, nor that of the fit again Rhys Ruddock and Shane Jennings, another who made a key impact last week. More eye-catchingly, Marty Moore has been picked ahead of Mike Ross.
Whatever about the legality of Yannick Forrestier’s binding last week, the frontrow changes around the hour mark extracted the sting from the Castres’ scrum. As this also included the introduction of Moore, Matt O’Connor and Jonno Gibbes have opted to give him just his tenth competitive start and second in the Heineken Cup.
Moore made his European debut at the Liberty Stadium in October as a 20th minute replacement for Ross. With the Ospreys leading 6-3 and Leinster having been penalised at previous scrums, Alun-Wyn Jones opted for a five metre scrum from a penalty soon after, whereupon Moore withstood the initial Ospreys shunt and then drove Duncan Jones.
Denuded of their scrum power base, and with Leinster competing hard at the breakdown, the Ospreys’ challenge fell away. Much the same applies here, as without the likes of Mike Phillips (although Rhys Webb has been a big success this season), Shane Williams, Lee Byrne and Tommy Bowe, swinging from the hip is not their style any more. Then again, the longer they are in the contest, the more dangerous the Ospreys will be. Accordingly, O’Connor has identified the need for an accurate and physical start while limiting the influence of Biggar, who has landed all 20 of his kicks in this season’s competition to date.
“They’re pretty economical in how they approach things,” added O’Connor of the Ospreys. “They don’t go off script too much but if you look at them historically they stay in the contest for long periods. They might be fourth in the group but they haven’t been beaten by a lot in any of those margins.”
Indeed their biggest defeat has been by 12 points, making notions of a bonus point win for Leinster also fanciful. With or without a bonus point, Leinster need two unlikely favours over the weekend to earn a home quarter-final given Toulouse are away to Zebre, Toulon are away to Glasgow, Munster host Edinburgh and Clermont are at home to Racing Metro – and the Parisians are so off the Euro pace especially they may even give Johnny Sexton a rare weekend off, along with a few others.
There is also the presence of the unpredictable Romain Poite, whose officiating of the Grand League final of two seasons ago which the Ospreys won at the RDS left a sour taste in home mouths, and the absence of Seán O’Brien – a wrecking ball in the first meeting who also negated Justin Tipuric.
Yet with the popular Strauss in line for his first appearance since being diagnosed with a heart condition last October after being given the medical all-clear much sooner than anticipated, along with Jack McGrath, Ross (who will make his 100th Leinster appearance) et al on the bench, Leinster should have the strength in depth to see this one through and for once see off those dastardly Ospreys.