Leinster close out the league phase of the RaboDirect PRO12 by facing the team that has denied them the title in two of the past three seasons – the Ospreys. Already assured of a play-off place, Joe Schmidt’s men are looking to secure a home semi-final.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Friday, May 3
LEINSTER (2nd) v OSPREYS (5th), the RDS, 7.45pm (live TG4/S4C)
Team News: The Leinster team to face the Ospreys in Friday night’s RaboDirect PRO12 encounter at the RDS has been named.
Isaac Boss will form the half-back partnership with Jonathan Sexton – now just 28 points shy of the 1,000 point career mark for the province – in a side which sees several changes to the one which started last weekend’s Amlin Challenge Cup semi-final win.
Andrew Conway comes into the backs division, meaning that Fergus McFadden will partner Ian Madigan in the centre. Brian O’Driscoll is given a ‘breather’ being named on the bench after his exertions in recent weeks.
Meanwhile, Jamie Heaslip, Kevin McLaughlin and Mike Ross are rested after picking up knocks last weekend.
Gordon D’Arcy has made good progress after his calf strain and should come back into the reckoning for next weekend’s league semi-final.
In all there are 13 home-grown players in the starting side which will be led once more by second row Leo Cullen.
Fresh from his British & Irish Lions selection, Sean O’Brien has recovered from injury. The Tullow man starts at number 8 in a back row which also includes Shane Jennings and Rhys Ruddock.
Jack McGrath will make his 35th senior appearance, linking up with Ireland hooker Sean Cronin and Jamie Hagan in the front row.
Ticket sales for Friday’s game have passed the 17,500 mark. Tickets are still on sale online here, and are also available from Leinster Rugby Store (Donnybrook), Spar (Donnybrook) as well as Ticketmaster outlets nationwide.
Meanwhile, the Ospreys are hoping to squeeze into the play-offs and maintain their chances of retaining the league crown they won in Dublin last May.
Steve Tandy’s side slipped up away to high-flying Glasgow last time out and need a victory over Leinster – preferably of the bonus point variety – and for the fourth-placed Scarlets to go down at home to Benetton Treviso, if they are to reach the last-four.
For their latest trip across the Irish Sea, the Ospreys have brought Ashley Beck, Tom Habberfield and Rhys Webb into their backs division, with Webb replacing the injured Kahn Fotuali’i (thigh) at scrum half.
Beck, who has proven a handful for Leinster in the past, resumes at outside centre alongside Ben John who started on the left wing in that 35-17 loss at the Warriors.
With a knee injury ruling 2013 Lions squad member Richard Hibbard out, Scott Baldwin will start at hooker.
James King shifts to the second row to partner captain Alun Wyn Jones, with Sam Lewis getting the nod at openside flanker and another of the region’s Lions contingent, Justin Tipuric, moving to the blindside.
LEINSTER: Rob Kearney; Andrew Conway, Fergus McFadden, Ian Madigan, Isa Nacewa; Jonathan Sexton, Isaac Boss; Jack McGrath, Sean Cronin, Jamie Hagan, Leo Cullen (capt), Quinn Roux, Rhys Ruddock, Shane Jennings, Sean O’Brien.
Replacements: Richardt Strauss, Cian Healy, Michael Bent, Devin Toner, Dominic Ryan, John Cooney, Andrew Goodman, Brian O’Driscoll.
OSPREYS: Richard Fussell; Tom Habberfield, Ashley Beck, Ben John, Ross Jones; Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb; Duncan Jones, Scott Baldwin, Adam Jones, Alun Wyn Jones (capt), James King, Justin Tipuric, Sam Lewis, Joe Bearman.
Replacements: Dmitri Arhip, Ryan Bevington, Cai Griffiths, Ian Evans, Morgan Allen, Matthew Morgan, Tom Isaacs, Jonathan Spratt.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Mark Patton, Stuart Gaffikin (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: Sean Cronin (Leinster) – “Something that Joe (Schmidt) drills into us is the idea of continuous improvement. We put some good phases together and we were quite clinical at times (against Biarritz),” he told the Herald.
“But even though we were excited about getting to another final, we have a few areas to work on. We’re under no illusions as to how good Stade (Francais) will be. But that’s for a few weeks’ time.
“This week we have the Ospreys who are also the reigning holders of the PRO12 and they won’t have any fear about coming over to Dublin.
“They’re a side filled with Lions players and Welsh internationals and they have been tough opponents for us in recent times. It’s going to be a tough challenge for us.
“The competition in the squad is such that any player can come in and do a job. Look at my own position; Straussy (Richardt Strauss) has been in good form recently, while Aaron (Dundon) was excellent for the ‘A’ team in the British & Irish Cup semi-final.
“I think we all get a buzz off that (competition). On the one hand there’s a lot of pressure every day in training and every time you pull on the shirt. And on the other, you nearly want that pressure because it tends to get the best out of you. It’s a good, healthy environment to be in.”
Steve Tandy (Ospreys) – “All the hard work of the last nine months rests on Friday evening. I was extremely disappointed with our performance up in Glasgow last time out.
“We didn’t do ourselves justice and that (35-17) defeat has opened the door for the Scarlets, allowing them to jump ahead of us with one game to go.
“We know that we’re up against it if we are going to reach the play-offs but we definitely won’t be throwing the towel in.
“This team isn’t about that, it’s about playing for the cause and giving everything. If we can put in the kind of performance that’s needed then we’ll have to wait and see what happens elsewhere.”
Top Scorers – 2012/13 RaboDirect PRO12: Leinster – Points: Ian Madigan 184; Tries: Ian Madigan 6; Ospreys – Points: Dan Biggar 159; Tries: Kahn Fotuali’i, Dan Biggar 4 each
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
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
Sunday, May 27, 2012 – Final – Leinster 30 Ospreys 31, the RDS
Sunday, November 4, 2012 – Ospreys 19 Leinster 10, Liberty Stadium
– Leinster must win to ensure home advantage in the play-offs. Their only defeat in their last 14 contests in all competitions was 22-18 at home to Ulster in the RaboDirect PRO12 on March 30
– The Leinstermen have lost just once to a Welsh region in any competition this season: 19-10 at the Ospreys in round 8 of the PRO12
– The Ospreys also must win to give themselves any chance of taking the fourth play-off spot away from the Scarlets
– The Ospreys’ five-match unbeaten run in the PRO12 ended in the last round with their 35-17 reversal in Glasgow
– Leinster have won just one of their last seven contests with the Ospreys: 15-10 at the RDS in January 2011