Leinster get the reality check they need in defeat to Ospreys
Leo Cullen views loss as eye-opener for his side ahead of huge challenge next weekend
Leinster’s Joey Carbery in action against Ospreys’s Kieron Fonotia and Tom Habberfield during his side’s defeat at Liberty Stadium, Swansea. Photograph: Alex Davidson/Inpho
OSPREYS 32-18 LEINSTER
Leo Cullen may yet have cause to thank Alun Wyn Jones and his pumped up Ospreys players for giving the Leinster players the reality check they needed before facing double European Cup winners Saracens at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday.
Almost everything that Leinster have done this season has turned to gold, but as the business end of the season fast approaches there are no second chances. At stake in Swansea was the chance to qualify for the Guinness Pro14 playoffs with three games to spare, but that was lost.
With home games against Benetton Rugby and Zebre to come, as well as a trip to Galway to meet Connacht, the odds are still stacked heavily in favour of Cullen’s men in grabbing a home semi-final.
The 32-18 defeat at the Liberty Stadium was only the fourth of the season in all competitions and the unbeaten home record will be on the line at the Aviva Stadium this weekend as well as a ticket to the Champions Cup semi-finals.
So, after the euphoria of the Irish Grand Slam – Leinster reintegrated seven of their Six Nations heroes against the Ospreys – this defeat will have forced everyone in the camp to refocus on provincial priorities.
“It was a bit of a reality check for some of our guys because it was a tough, physical contest. We came off second best in too many of those contact areas,” said the Leinster head coach.
“It definitely gave us a good grounding ahead of next week and showed us the level we need to get to. We saw Ospreys play against Saracens in the Champions Cup in the drawn game at the Liberty and we know Saracens are going to be another physical team.
“We watched a little bit of their game against Quins and it is going to be a great challenge for our players to get back to that level. There is a hell of a lot at stake next week.
“Any thoughts of a league and cup double are miles away. Where we are at the moment is that this week we are taking on the two-time champions of Europe.
“It is hard to look past that at the moment. At least we have an eight-day lead into that game and it is important for the guys to recover well and prepare well for next week because it is an unbelievable challenge for us.
“It sounds as though it will be a great crowd at the Aviva and we will certainly need every little bit we can get out of them against a team like the Saracens. There is a real focus in the group and the players will reset their goals this week and assess what they want to get out of the season – it is a big week for us.”
The Ospreys made the most of the disruption caused by the injuries in the Leinster back line as they plundered three tries to move into a 19-3 lead. Adam Byrne then threw his side a lifeline in the last play of the first half as he outjumped Jones at the restart to regain possession and pave the way for a corner try by Barry Daly.
There may have been brief thoughts of a revival in the dressing room at half-time, but the irrepressible Justin Tipuric, off to play for Wales at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast next week, picked up the bonus-point try nine minutes after the break as he popped up a metre out to take a pass from Keiron Fonotia. Dan Biggar added the extras to stretch the lead to 18 points.
Leinster needed to score next and a neat kick through from a driving maul 10 metres out by Luke McGrath allowed Rory O’Loughlin to race on to it and score a try that Joey Carbery converted. Then the fullback-turned-centre stepped up to kick a penalty to give his side a sniff of a comeback with 20 minutes to go.
That hope didn’t last long, though, as Biggar kicked a penalty for hands at the breakdown to stretch the gap to 11 points. He also kicked another with the final act of the game.
Ospreys: Tries: D Evans (13, 25), T Habberfield (38), J Tipuric (49); Cons: D Biggar 3; Pens: D Biggar 2
Leinster: Tries: B Daly (40), R O’Loughlin (53); Con: J Carberry; Pens: R Byrne, J Carberry
Ospreys: D Evans; J Hassler, K Fonotia, A Beck (O Watkin 58), H Dirksen; D Biggar, T Habberfield (M Aubrey 64); N Smith (R Jones 61), S Otten, D Arhip (M Fia 61), B Davies, AW Jones (capt), O Cracknell (R McCusker 11, A Beard 67), J Tipuric, S Cross
Reps Unused: I Phillips, S Davies
Leinster: J Carbery; F McFadden (A Byrne 16), R O’Loughlin, N Reid (D Kearney 23, J Gibson-Park 34), B Daly; R Byrne, L McGrath (captain); J McGrath (E Byrne 46), S Cronin (J Tracy 50), A Porter (M Bent 50), R Molony, S Fardy, J Murphy (M Deegan 54), J Murphy, J Conan (I Nagle 64).
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)