Will Leinster’s departing coaches and players get a winning send-off at a packed-out RDS on Saturday, or will Tommy Bowe and his Ospreys team-mates spoil the party? Sit tight for what is sure to be a high octane, edge of the seat tussle between the Magners League’s two top-ranked sides this season.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: GRAND FINAL: Saturday, May 29
LEINSTER v OSPREYS, the RDS, 6.30pm (live Setanta Sports Ireland/S4C)
Team News: The Leinster team to face the Ospreys in Saturday’s sold-out Magners League grand final at the RDS has been named.
Shane Jennings will lead the side, with the retiring Malcolm O’Kelly lining up alongside Nathan Hines in the second row, in a team which includes 10 Ireland internationals.
Jennings, who takes over the captaincy from the injured Leo Cullen (shoulder), continues his back row partnership with Kevin McLaughlin and Jamie Heaslip.
Meanwhile, Eoin Reddan partners Jonathan Sexton at half-back, with Gordon D’Arcy lining up alongside Brian O’Driscoll in the centre.
CJ van der Linde starts in the front row alongside John Fogarty and Stan Wright, while a decision on the replacement prop will be made closer to kick-off.
South African van der Linde’s selection at tighthead prop is the one and only change to the Leinster team that overcame Munster 16-6 in the recent semi-final at the RDS.
He replaces Cian Healy who has been ill in the lead-up to the grand final, with Wright switching to the loosehead side of the scrum.
Speaking ahead of his final game in charge of the province, head coach Michael Cheika said: “The biggest thing for me is the team spirit which has been as strong as it has ever been for me.
“We’re going to need every bit of it because when you test it in the big games, as much as you like to think strategy, technique and all that stuff counts – it does – but how together you are and how much you want to win for each other will be extremely important.
“And that’s something that we have worked hard to build as a playing group and hopefully that will hold us in good stead on Saturday night.
“The Ospreys are the most dangerous team in the competition. You’ve just got to look at the speed they’ve got which is one of the most dangerous facets in any team’s game, with guys of the calibre of (Tommy) Bowe and (Shane) Williams out wide.
“And if you have the luxury of playing a quality player like James Hook in the centre because there’s another number 10 who is pushing him then you’ve got to have some good players.
“(Andrew) Bishop is a quality player in the middle and their back row speaks for themselves in how they play.
“I really think that they will target us in the tight five and I think that our tight five are very well focused on what will be the biggest battle for us of the season, because it’s all or nothing. As we’ve said before, whoever wants it more will win.”
Meanwhile, the Ospreys have a named an unchanged team for Saturday’s much-anticipated league decider.
The Welsh region include eight British & Irish Lions in a starting side of 15 full internationals for the end-of-season finale.
Two former All Blacks will line up for the Welsh region in Jerry Collins and Marty Holah, with Ireland winger Tommy Bowe joining 12 Welsh internationals in the team. Wales skipper Ryan Jones captains the side from number 8.
Adam Jones, Huw Bennett and Paul James make up an all-Welsh front row, while fellow Wales caps Alun Wyn Jones and Jonathan Thomas form an athletic lock partnership.
Andrew Bishop joins the in-form James Hook in midfield and Lee Byrne is named alongside Lions team-mates Bowe and Williams in the back-three.
The imposing Filo Tiatia, who has been coaching the Ospreys forwards for the past 16 months, will make his final appearance for the region if he gets some game-time as a replacement.
LEINSTER: Rob Kearney; Shane Horgan, Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Isa Nacewa; Jonathan Sexton, Eoin Reddan; Stan Wright, John Fogarty, CJ van der Linde, Nathan Hines, Malcolm O’Kelly, Kevin McLaughlin, Shane Jennings (capt), Jamie Heaslip.
Replacements: Richardt Strauss, Cian Healy/Mike Ross, Trevor Hogan, Stephen Keogh, Paul O’Donohoe, Fergus McFadden, Girvan Dempsey.
OSPREYS: Lee Byrne; Tommy Bowe, Andrew Bishop, James Hook, Shane Williams; Dan Biggar, Mike Phillips; Paul James, Huw Bennett, Adam Jones, Alun Wyn Jones, Jonathan Thomas, Jerry Collins, Marty Holah, Ryan Jones (capt).
Replacements: Ed Shervington, Ryan Bevington, Ian Gough, Filo Tiatia, Jamie Nutbrown, Gareth Owen, Nikki Walker.
Referee: Chris White (England)
Assistant Referees: Andy Macpherson, David Changleng (both Scotland)
Television Match Official: Jim Yuille (Scotland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Leinster to win: 4/9; Draw: 20/1; Ospreys to win: 15/8
Pre-Match Quotes: Michael Cheika (Leinster) – “The preparation has been a little bit different because we had the weekend off and we just tried to manage the week well so that, most importantly, we have guys running fresh.
“At this stage of the season it’s just (about) refinements around the game strategy, it’s more about having the players fresh. They just finished training and they looked quite fresh and raring to go.
“We’ll probably only run one more time and get our little bits and pieces together. And then hopefully come Saturday night we’ll be at our best.
“Sean O’Brien’s not ready yet and he won’t be back for this game. We decided that after training today and we’ve got enough in the squad (so we won’t be adding to it).
“The Under-20s have commitments at the moment, with the Junior World Championship coming up, so we’re trying to leave the likes of (Rhys) Ruddock and (Dominic) Ryan out of action if we can. I don’t think we’ll need to draw on them.
“Cian Healy has been a bit ill and hasn’t trained yet since the weekend, but apart from that everyone’s in pretty good nick, bar the standard long-term injuries.
“Leo (Cullen) has gone for an operation on his shoulder and he won’t be playing. It’s hard for Leo because he has battled all season and leads us well.
“It’s disappointing for him, but I think that it was an important decision for him to make; to get that sorted out straight away…it was a pretty easy decision to make and it was about getting him right and in the best possible condition going forward.
“(Shane) Jennings has really come along as far as captaincy is concerned this season and it leaves the door open for Mal (O’Kelly) to play one more game. I think he showed in the last game that he still has plenty left to give and I’m sure we’ll see the best out of him in the last one.
“There was no sentiment at the end of training when there was a few errors made and we know that if we knock off for a couple of minutes against the Ospreys, we’ll pay.
“The message is loud and clear that this game is about winning the final. I wouldn’t want it to be any other way and I don’t think that any of the other people that are leaving would want it any other way.
“It’s not about me or any of the individual players. It’s about the club and making the club better. It has always been about that.
“And that’s how we’ll look back anyway on the contribution that we make whether it’s as coaches or players. We’ll have plenty of time to say goodbye afterwards. This is about winning the game.
I think that it has been a good season regardless (of Saturday’s result). That’s not to take any pressure away or anything like that.
“What we’ve done in terms of developing younger players who have come through now like (Kevin) McLaughlin, (Jonathan) Sexton has appeared, (Eoin) Reddan has done really well since coming to Leinster. Fergus McFadden, Eoin O’Malley. (Jamie) Heaslip has gone on another level.
“We lost some big names last year – (Felipe) Contepomi, (Rocky) Elsom, and (Chris) Whitaker who retired – and we have been pretty consistent. Guys like Shaun Berne and Nathan Hines have fitted into the mix really well and added to the team.
“The biggest thing for me is the team spirit which has been as strong as it has ever been for me. We’re going to need every bit of it because when you test it in the big games, as much as you like to think strategy, technique and all that stuff counts.
“It does, but how together you are and how much you want to win for each other will be extremely important. And that’s something that we have worked hard to build as a playing group and hopefully that will hold us in good stead on Saturday night.
“I don’t think that it’s the end of an era. I would say that it’s very much the start hopefully. There’s good foundations laid, the players have built an excellent culture at the club.
“Hopefully we will put another building block into that on Saturday because having some milestones along the way is very important, that you can look back to and reflect on so that you can say, ‘yes, I achieved that..’.
“So, it is an important building block in terms of how we perceive ourselves as a club and how others perceive us as well. If you look at the team now, it’s very much the start of an era.”
Sean Holley (Ospreys) – “After nine months of hard work, it all boils down to Saturday evening at the RDS. First versus second for the Magners League title, it should be a wonderful occasion and a great advert for Magners League rugby.
“With the two teams contesting the grand final being the ones who finished in the top two places, the play-off system has obviously worked, and we honestly can’t wait for Saturday.
“Everybody is raring to go. It’s what we’ve worked towards all season, so I understand what people say when they ask will Saturday’s game define our season.
“We’ve got a proud history in the Magners League, like Leinster we’ve won it twice and I guess like them again, we want to be the first team to win it three times.
“It would be a fantastic reward for the hard work put in by all the squad, coaching staff, and the back office team over the course of the season, but we realise that standing in our way is one of the European giants who have the same ambitions as us.
“We’ve had ups and downs this season but I think we’ve grown as a team and as an organisation over this period. Probably the defining time for us was the tour of Ireland after the Biarritz game, it allowed us to come together and refocus, to plan for the rest of the campaign and set our targets.
“Winning in Ulster and Munster was just what we needed, but wouldn’t have counted for anything if we hadn’t been able to come home and build on that with a win over the Dragons, followed by the semi-final result against Glasgow.
“Leinster have that winning mentality, they have quality across the pitch and have shown in recent seasons exactly what they are capable of.
“Their front row has come of age, in midfield they have players like (Isa) Nacewa and (Brian) O’Driscoll, and like Dan Biggar for us, Jonathan Sexton has grown this season in a position which probably was something that was lacking for them after (Felipe) Contepomi left.
“They’ve got all round class and ability, we know that. But, our preparation hasn’t been all about what they can offer, we’ve been working hard to make sure our own house is in order and I’m sure they’ve done the same.”
Top Scorers – 2009/10 Magners League: Leinster – Points: Jonathan Sexton 124; Tries: Rob Kearney 5; Ospreys – Points: Dan Biggar 198; Tries: Tommy Bowe 7
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Friday, November 23, 2007 – Ospreys 19 Leinster 26, Liberty Stadium
Saturday, January 5, 2008 – Leinster 26 Ospreys 15, the RDS
Friday, September 19, 2008 – Leinster 19 Ospreys 13, the RDS
Friday, March 6, 2009 – Ospreys 8 Leinster 13, Liberty Stadium
Friday, September 18, 2009 – Ospreys 11 Leinster 18, Liberty Stadium
Friday, April 16, 2010 – Leinster 20 Ospreys 16, the RDS
– Leinster are chasing a third Magners League title, having claimed the trophy in December 2001 and May 2008.
The Leinstermen have won their last two league games against Edinburgh and Munster since tripping up 30-6 at
Glasgow Warriors in round 17
– Leinster’s only league defeat at the RDS since October 2007 was an 18-0 reversal to Munster in September 2008
– The Leinstermen have contested two previous finals in all competitions and won them both – 24-20 over Munster in the Celtic League final at Lansdowne Road in December 2001 and 19-16 over Leicester in the Heineken Cup at Murrayfield in May 2009
– The Ospreys are also chasing a third Magners League title, following previous success in the 2004/05 and 2006/07 seasons
– The Ospreys’ only defeat in their last six Magners League matches was a 20-16 loss to Leinster at the RDS on April 16
– The Welshmen have won four of their last five games against Irish opponents and have won on three of their four
visits to Ireland this season. The Ospreys have played in two previous finals in all competitions – both against Leicester in the EDF Energy Cup at Twickenham, losing 41-35 in April 2007 but winning 23-6 a year later
– Leinster have won their last six encounters with the Ospreys since the Welsh side’s 19-17 victory at the Liberty Stadium in the Magners League in April 2007. The Ospreys’ only previous win on Leinster turf was a 16-12 success at Donnybrook in March 2005