26th May 2012 12:27
Fittingly it is the top two teams from the regular season that will be contesting Sunday’s RaboDirect PRO12 final. Having fallen at the final hurdle on successive occasions, double-chasing Leinster will not want to make it a third year in-a-row as runners-up.
LEINSTER (1st) v OSPREYS (2nd), the RDS, 4pm (live TG4/RTÉ Two/S4C)
Team News: The Leinster team to face the Ospreys in Sunday’s RaboDirect PRO12 final at the RDS has been named.
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In all, there are four changes to the Leinster side that started last weekend’s Heineken Cup final victory over Ulster – and all four are in the pack.
Leo Cullen leads a team which includes 13 Ireland internationals for the province’s third meeting of the season with the Welsh region.
Cullen partners Devin Toner in the second row with the Moynalvey man set to make his 97th appearance – and his 30th this season.
Two of the try scorers from the Ulster game, Heinke van der Merwe and Sean Cronin, have been promoted to the front row to link up with Mike Ross.
Number 8 Jamie Heaslip forms an experienced back row combination with Shane Jennings and Kevin McLaughlin, who makes his 75th Leinster appearance, while Sean O’Brien (knee) is an absentee.
The table toppers’ back-line is unchanged as Eoin Reddan links up again with Jonathan Sexton at half-back and Gordon D’Arcy continues in the centre alongside Brian O’Driscoll.
Cian Healy (dead leg) will face a late fitness test to determine whether he can take his place on the bench, while All Black Brad Thorn is also among the replacements for Sunday’s sold-out encounter.
Meanwhile, Ospreys head coach Steve Tandy has made just one change to the team that ended Munster’s title defence with a 45-10 semi-final defeat.
Rhys Webb has been preferred to Kahn Fotuali’i at scrum half as the Welshmen look to be crowned league champions for the second time in three years and a record four time overall.
It would be a fitting way for Welsh wing wizard Shane Williams to finish off his career before he retires from the game. He will line out on the left wing in his last ever appearance for the Ospreys.
Influential prop Paul James will also be missing from the region’s line-up next season as he is leaving to play for English Premiership side Bath.
Ireland and Lions winger Tommy Bowe’s season is over due to a haematoma, while the Ospreys’ injury list also includes the likes of Huw Bennett (Achilles), Cai Griffiths (arm) and Nikki Walker (ACL).
LEINSTER: Rob Kearney; Fergus McFadden, Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Isa Nacewa; Jonathan Sexton, Eoin Reddan; Heinke van der Merwe, Sean Cronin, Mike Ross, Leo Cullen (capt), Devin Toner, Kevin McLaughlin, Shane Jennings, Jamie Heaslip.
Replacements: Richardt Strauss, Cian Healy/Jack McGrath, Nathan White, Brad Thorn, Dominic Ryan, John Cooney, Ian Madigan, David Kearney.
OSPREYS: Richard Fussell; Hanno Dirksen, Andrew Bishop, Ashley Beck, Shane Williams; Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb; Paul James, Richard Hibbard, Adam Jones, Alun Wyn Jones (capt), Ian Evans, Ryan Jones, Justin Tipuric, Joe Bearman.
Replacements: Scott Baldwin, Ryan Bevington, Aaron Jarvis, James King, Tom Smith, Kahn Fotuali’i, Matthew Morgan, Tom Isaacs.
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant Referees: George Clancy (Ireland), Neil Paterson (Scotland)
Television Match Official: Giulio De Santis (Italy)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Leinster to win: 4/11; Draw: 22/1; Ospreys to win: 12/5
Pre-Match Quotes: Leo Cullen (Leinster) – “It would be pretty special if we manage to do it (win the double). From a players’ point of view, you just need to get back and look at the process that allows you to win games.
“There was a real committed focus last week in the build-up to the (Heineken Cup) final. This week it’s been a little bit different. Obviously, everyone’s been coming off a big high and you need to just get back down to earth and refocus the mind. Lads have been pretty good this week.
“It’s a very, very different challenge. The Ospreys are a team that have beaten us twice already this year and they’re a quality outfit – they have a lot of players that made up the Welsh Grand Slam winning team.
“We need to be on our guard, it’s a massive challenge and no one is under any illusions as to how tough it is going to be.
“Last year we had to play Munster away at Thomond (Park) and that was difficult. Going down to Thomond is difficult at the best of times to get results.
“The year before we had crashed out of Europe in the semis away to Toulouse. The Ospreys had been out of Europe and they came out over. At that stage of the year we were pretty well bashed, I think.
“I didn’t play in that grand final myself, I had surgery the week before. That’s just the nature of the season, sometimes it’s who is in the best physical condition and who turns up on the day that wins these games.
“The Ospreys, I suppose, have had a very good lead in to the game. It doesn’t always work that that will perform on the day. It’s a final and it comes down to us doing the basics really well and building from there. If we struggle to get our platform it’s going to be a very, very tough day.”
Steve Tandy (Ospreys) – “It’s a huge game, a massive occasion for Ospreys Rugby, and everybody is really excited about Sunday.
“Leinster are a great team. What they’ve achieved in Europe over the last four years speaks for itself, and the nature of their win against Ulster last weekend means that they’ll be full of confidence.
“Playing at home in front of their own fans is another bonus for them and will make the task even more difficult for us.
“Previous games won’t count for a thing on Sunday, it’s all about the day and who handles the pressure the best. We know that we have to improve in certain areas, we were guilty of putting ourselves under unnecessary pressure in the Munster match and that meant we had to rely too heavily on our defence.
“We don’t want to have to do that on Sunday, we want to try and be more composed and look to dictate territory better.
“We will obviously do our homework and analysis on them but the key thing for us is about our own performance. We need to prepare properly, be thorough, and make sure we are accurate in everything we do.
“We have to be clinical. If we focus on our own game and the areas that we can control then we’ll be able to compete and we’ll be in the game.
“It’s going to be a great day, there’s a big Ospreys support traveling out to back the cause and we want to put on the kind of performance that will make them proud of their team.”
Top Scorers – 2011/12 RaboDirect PRO12: Leinster – Points: Isa Nacewa 120; Tries: Ian Madigan 7; Ospreys – Points: Dan Biggar 241; Tries: Hanno Dirksen 6
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Friday, April 16, 2010 – Leinster 20 Ospreys 16, the RDS
Saturday, May 29, 2010 – Grand final – Leinster 12 Ospreys 17, the RDS
Sunday, November 28, 2010 – Ospreys 19 Leinster 15, Liberty Stadium
Friday, January 7, 2011 – Leinster 15 Ospreys 10, the RDS
Friday, September 2, 2011 – Ospreys 27 Leinster 3, Liberty Stadium
Friday, March 23, 2012 – Leinster 22 Ospreys 23, the RDS
– Leinster are bidding to become just the fifth side, and the first since London Wasps in 2004, to become European and domestic champions in the same season
– The Leinstermen have won the PRO12 tournament twice before, in 2001/02 and 2007/08, and have now reached a third straight final but lost out to Sunday’s opponents, the Ospreys, in the 2009/10 decider and also Munster last season
– Leinster’s only defeat in any competition since September was a 23-22 loss to the Ospreys at the RDS in the RaboDirect PRO12 on March 23
– The Ospreys are chasing a record fourth PRO12 crown, having won the tournament in 2004/05, 2006/07 and 2009/10
– The Welshmen have won their last six matches since their 26-20 home defeat to Glasgow Warriors on March 2, but have lost just once to an Irish province this season, going down 15-14 to Ulster at Ravenhill on February 24
– Leinster have won only one of their last five encounters with Ospreys, beating them 15-10 at the RDS back in January 2011