Leo Cullen juggles Leinster’s resources to face Ospreys
Nine changes from Wasps victory as win would leave side poised for Pro12 semi-final
Robbie Henshaw: the only player to retain the same jersey from the Leinster backline which performed so stylishly against Wasps. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Ospreys v Leinster
Liberty Stadium, Saturday, 3pm.
Live on Sky Sports 2.
No less than the subsequent clash in Cork, there’s been a fair edge to this rivalry as well, and the fixture also finds the Ospreys on the rebound from a quarter-final defeat in Europe, namely their surprising home quarter-final defeat to Stade Francais, whereas Leinster are very much alive in both competitions.
In a meeting between third and first, and the League’s two leading try scorers, the Ospreys also slipped out of the top two and six points adrift of Leinster thanks to their even more surprising defeat in the League away to Treviso a fortnight ago.
With games away to Cardiff and Ulster, before a last-day visit of the Scarlets to the Liberty Stadium, the Ospreys probably need to win this fixture to maintain their interest in a home semi-final.
By contrast, victory for Leinster would extend their lead over the Ospreys and leave them very strongly placed for a home semi-final, with a final at the Aviva Stadium a further carrot. They come into this game on the back of a ten-game unbeaten run in both competitions since losing away to Munster on St Stephen’s Day.
As with Rassie Erasmus, not surprisingly Leo Cullen rotates his squad by making nine changes to the starting line-up, and they are boosted by the return of Seán Cronin, who makes his first start since injuring his hamstring off the bench against Zebre in January.
Only Robbie Henshaw retains the same jersey from the backline which performed so stylishly against Wasps, with Joey Carbery shifting to outhalf alongside the restored Jamison Gibson-Park, Zane Kirchner joining Henshaw, and Isa Nacewa moving to fullback as Rory O’Loughlin and Fergus McFadden return in the absence of the injured Adam Byrne.
The Ospreys’ selection reflects the importance of this game for their season. Dan Biggar plays his 200th game for the Ospreys, and is their youngest player to achieve that landmark.
After what he admits has been “a tough week”, the Ospreys head coach Steve Tandy said: “The last two weeks have been incredibly disappointing and frustrating but we’ve got to show that we have what it takes to bounce back from those setbacks. I don’t think there’s a bigger challenge in European rugby this season than Leinster, but this group has to step up and show what they’re about.”
Last week’s defeat was in the Principality Stadium, but at their customary home in Swansea this season the Ospreys have won 11 of 12 competitive games, with only Munster downing them there.
OSPREYS: S Davies; K Giles, K Fonotia, J Matavesi, D Evans; D Biggar, R Webb (Capt); N Smith , S Baldwin, B Mujati, L Ashley, R Thornton, O Cracknell, J Tipuric, D Baker. Replacements: S Otten, P James, M Fia, B Davies, T Ardron, S Underhill, T Habberfield, J Spratt.
LEINSTER: I Nacewa (capt); R O’Loughlin, Z Kirchner, R Henshaw, F McFadden; J Carbery, J Gibson-Park; J McGrath, S Cronin, T Furlong, D Toner, M Kearney, R Ruddock, J van der Flier, J Conan. Replacements: J Tracy, P Dooley, M Ross, I Nagle, D Leavy, N McCarthy, R Byrne, D Kearney.
Referee: John Lacey (IRFU).
Overall Pro12 head to head record: Played 29, Ospreys won 11, Leinster won 15, draws 3.
Last five meetings: (2014-15) Leinster 18 Ospreys 12, Ospreys 9 Leinster 9. (2015-16) Ospreys 9 Leinster 22, Leinster 15 Ospreys 16. Leinster 31 Ospreys 19.
Leading points scorers: Ospreys – Sam Davies 92. Leinster – Isa Nacewa 78.
Leading try scorers: Ospreys – Keelan Giles 6, Dan Evans, Dafydd Howells, Ben John, Sam Perry 5 each. Leinster – Joey Carbery 8, Luke McGrath 7, Adam Bynre, Rory O’Loughlin 6 each.
Betting (Paddy Powers): 5/6 Ospreys, 18/1 Draw, Evens Leinster. Handicap odds (Leinster +1 pt) 10/11 Ospreys, 22/1 Draw, 10/11 Leinster.
Forecast: Ospreys to win.