The third-placed Ospreys will be gunning for an upset when they visit table toppers Leinster, who welcome back Brian O’Driscoll and Leo Cullen into their side along with debutant Brad Thorn. The odds point to a home win and Leinster extending their unbeaten run to 21 matches.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Friday, March 23
LEINSTER (1st) v OSPREYS (3rd), the RDS, 7.05pm (live RTÉ Two/BBC 2 Wales)
Team News: The Leinster team to face the Ospreys in Friday night’s RaboDirect PRO12 clash at the RDS has been named.
Brian O’Driscoll will make his first appearance for the province after making significant progress in recent weeks following injury. He will partner fellow Ireland international Fergus McFadden at centre for the visit of the Welsh side.
Isaac Boss links up with Ian Madigan at half-back with David Kearney forming a lively back-three alongside Luke Fitzgerald, who is set to make his 99th provincial appearance, and full-back Isa Nacewa.
Up front, Leo Cullen will captain the side for the first time since January after recovering from Achilles surgery.
Cullen will pack down with All Black World Cup winner Brad Thorn who makes his debut after signing a short-term deal with the province recently.
Rhys Ruddock joins fellow Leinster Academy graduate Dominic Ryan as well as number 8 Leo Auva’a in the back row.
Sean Cronin is one of eight Irish-qualified players named on the bench including the likes of Kevin McLaughlin and Eoin O’Malley.
Ticket sales for Friday’s game have passed the 17,300 mark and are still on sale online here, and from the Leinster Rugby Store (Donnybrook), Spar (Donnybrook) as well as Ticketmaster outlets nationwide.
Meanwhile, Wales Grand Slam winners Ryan Jones and Alun Wyn Jones will team up in the second row for the Ospreys when they take on Leinster.
The latter will captain the Welsh region as they look to complete a season’s double over Joe Schmidt’s side, having beaten them 27-3 on the opening night of the season back in September.
Justin Tipuric, another member of Warren Gatland’s Six Nations-winning squad, will start at openside flanker, with fellow Welsh internationals Adam Jones, Ryan Bevington, Ian Evans and Rhys Webb included among the replacements.
Second row Evans is standing by to make his 100th appearance for the Ospreys, but the former league champions make the trip across the Irish Sea without the injured Huw Bennett (Achilles), Duncan Jones (knee) and Jonathan Thomas and Joe Bearman (both ill).
LEINSTER: Isa Nacewa; David Kearney, Brian O’Driscoll, Fergus McFadden, Luke Fitzgerald; Ian Madigan, Isaac Boss; Heinke van der Merwe, Richardt Strauss, Nathan White, Leo Cullen (capt), Brad Thorn, Rhys Ruddock, Dominic Ryan, Leo Auva’a.
Replacements: Sean Cronin, Jack McGrath, Jamie Hagan, Damian Browne, Kevin McLaughlin, John Cooney, Eoin O’Malley, Fionn Carr.
OSPREYS: Richard Fussell; Hanno Dirksen, Andrew Bishop, Ashley Beck, Eli Walker; Dan Biggar, Kahn Fotuali’i; Paul James, Richard Hibbard, Aaron Jarvis, Ryan Jones, Alun Wyn Jones (capt), Tom Smith, Justin Tipuric, George Stowers.
Replacements: Scott Baldwin, Ryan Bevington, Adam Jones, Ian Evans, James King, Rhys Webb, Matthew Morgan, Tom Isaacs.
Referee: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Simon McDowell, Olly Hodges (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Alan Rogan (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Leinster to win: 1/5; Draw: 25/1; Ospreys to win: 4/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Rhys Ruddock (Leinster) – “Whenever Wales aren’t playing Ireland, I do tend to support them. I am happy to see them going so well. Obviously, there were some games in which I would have liked to see them do not quite so well.
“They are playing great rugby. That will give the regions in Wales good confidence. We need to be wary of that when we play against teams that might be high on confidence.
“I signed a two-year deal (with Leinster) about three weeks ago. I had said all along that my preference would be to stay with Leinster. I feel comfortable at Leinster. If there is any place to get the best out of me at the moment, this is where it is.
“It was just a case of weighing up my options, seeing whether I would be getting enough game-time. I feel I will get enough opportunities and if I play well enough there is ample opportunity to make those international squads.”
Steve Tandy (Ospreys) – “It’s good to be able to welcome back our internationals on the back of their Grand Slam success, and we’ll be looking for them to bring that buzz back with them to the region.
“We’re proud of what they’ve achieved with Wales, to have 11 boys involved in the Grand Slam is something special, but it’s important now that everyone focuses on the remaining five games of the regular season and the battle for the play-offs.
“Leinster away is always a big ask. Their home record in this competition speaks for itself so we know what to expect out there.
“But we’ve won there before and there are plenty of players in this group with that experience to fall back on, so although we are still a pretty young group, we believe in each other and our own ability.
“After a disappointing performance last time out it’s important that we show the right attitude. It’s really tight in and around the play-off spots and things are likely to change after every weekend now, so we just have to go out and do what we need to do and not worry about anything else.”
Top Scorers – 2011/12 RaboDirect PRO12: Leinster – Points: Isa Nacewa 108; Tries: Ian Madigan 6; Ospreys – Points: Dan Biggar 152; Tries: Hanno Dirksen, Rhys Webb 4 each
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Friday, September 18, 2009 – Ospreys 11 Leinster 18, Liberty Stadium
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
– Leinster’s incredible unbeaten run continues and now stands at 20 matches in all competitions, comfortably the best run by any top flight side since the game turned professional in 1995
– The Leinstermen have not lost since Glasgow Warriors visited the RDS in the RaboDirect PRO12 on September 17, and won 23-19
– The Ospreys have slipped to back-to-back defeats against Ulster and Glasgow, but have not lost three in-a-row in the competition since May 2008
– The Ospreys’ 15-14 defeat in Ulster on February 24 was their first loss to an Irish province this season
– Leinster have won just one of their last four encounters with the Ospreys, taking a 15-10 verdict at the RDS in this equivalent fixture last season