Leinster have a five-point lead at the top of the RaboDirect PRO12 as they enter the final few weeks of the league campaign, beginning with tonight’s trip to Swansea where they face the Ospreys for the fourth time this season.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Friday, April 11
OSPREYS (5th) v LEINSTER (1st), Liberty Stadium, 7.05pm (live BBC 2 Wales/RTÉ Two)
Team News: The Leinster team to face the Ospreys in the RaboDirect PRO12 at the Liberty Stadium on Friday evening has been named.
This is the fourth time the sides will have met this season and with Leinster failing to win on any of their previous three visits to the Liberty Stadium in the PRO12, head coach Matt O’Connor has selected a strong team as they try to secure top spot.
A number of Leinster players are nursing bumps and bruises from the Toulon game last weekend and with that in mind there are seven changes in personnel.
The only serious injury was to Fergus McFadden who limped off in the first half of the Heineken Cup quarter-final.
Thankfully, McFadden’s knee injury is not as bad as initially thought and the medial strain suffered is likely to keep him out for a few weeks at most. Zane Kirchner, who came on for him last Sunday, also replaces him here from the start.
Noel Reid comes in at inside centre with Gordon D’Arcy moving outside the young Clontarf man. Reid starred for the Leinster ‘A’ team last Friday, scoring a try as they comfortably overcame Munster ‘A’ in the quarter-final of the British & Irish Cup.
The final change in the back-line sees Isaac Boss start at scrum half with Eoin Reddan also left out of the matchday 23. Luke McGrath is selected as the back-up scrum half for the trip to Swansea.
There are four changes to the pack with Sean Cronin, Martin Moore, Leo Cullen and Kevin McLaughlin coming in from the start.
Cian Healy starts for the second week in-a-row having recovered from an ankle injury, with Cronin and Moore beside him in the front row.
Cullen captains the side from the second row with Mike McCarthy packing down beside him. McLaughlin, Shane Jennings and Jamie Heaslip complete the province’s forward unit.
There is plenty of experience on the bench with Mike Ross and Devin Toner among the options available to O’Connor, while there is a welcome return from injury for Darragh Fanning and Collie O’Shea.
Back in September, in round 2 of the PRO12, these teams played out a 29-all draw at the RDS but Leinster had the upper hand in both games in the Heineken Cup, winning 19-9 away and 36-3 at home.
“We were relatively lucky last week in that most of the blokes came through the game with only bumps and bruises, so we are able to keep a lot of the combinations together from last week,” said O’Connor.
“That will help us in terms of our execution and we will need a better all-round performance against a quality Ospreys side.”
Meanwhile, full-back Richard Fussell will make his 100th appearance for the Ospreys as they tackle the current table toppers and defending champions in a ‘must win’ game.
The Welsh region lost 11-9 away to fellow play-off hopefuls Glasgow Warriors last time out, and Steve Tandy has reacted by bringing Fussell, Ashley Beck, Tom Habberfield, Ryan Jones and Joe Bearman back into the team.
Fussell, Beck and Habberfield replace Sam Davies, Hanno Dirksen and Rhys Webb (knee) at full-back, in the centre and at scrum half respectively with Jonathan Spratt moving to outside centre.
Up front, the returning Jones partners captain Alun Wyn Jones in the second row and Bearman takes over from Sam Lewis at blindside flanker.
OSPREYS: Richard Fussell; Jeff Hassler, Jonathan Spratt, Ashley Beck, Aisea Natoga; Dan Biggar, Tom Habberfield; Duncan Jones, Scott Baldwin, Aaron Jarvis, Ryan Jones, Alun Wyn Jones (capt), Joe Bearman, Justin Tipuric, Dan Baker.
Replacements: Scott Otten, Nicky Smith, Adam Jones, James King, Morgan Allen, Tito Tebaldi, Sam Davies, Hanno Dirksen.
LEINSTER: Rob Kearney; Zane Kirchner, Gordon D’Arcy, Noel Reid, Dave Kearney; Jimmy Gopperth, Isaac Boss; Cian Healy, Sean Cronin, Martin Moore, Leo Cullen (capt), Mike McCarthy, Kevin McLaughlin, Shane Jennings, Jamie Heaslip.
Replacements: Aaron Dundon, Michael Bent, Mike Ross, Devin Toner, Jordi Murphy, Luke McGrath, Collie O’Shea, Darragh Fanning.
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant Referees: Neil Hennessy, Jon Mason (both Wales)
Television Match Official: Gareth Simmonds (Wales)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ospreys to win: 11/10; Draw: 18/1; Leinster to win: 4/5
Pre-Match Quotes: Cian Healy (Leinster) – “We weren’t clinical enough in how we played (against Toulon). They did exactly what we thought they were going to do. They came at us and beat us up.
“It’s not something we’re worried about. We’re pretty positive coming out of the meetings about what we have to do going forward to do well in this league.
“It’s all go now. These are important games and the Ospreys are a good team, so we want to be able to have a go at them.
“They’re a good team and like to play ball. We like positive rugby and we like playing against positive rugby. It’s always a good match. Especially with the front five, they’ve a strong pack so it’s always a good challenge.”
Steve Tandy (Ospreys) – “It’s do or die for us over the next four games now. We have to put in consistent top level performances between now and the end of the season if we are going to secure a play-off spot.
“We were extremely disappointed with the result in Glasgow, which has left us playing catch-up, but the attitude from the entire squad has been first class since then and the boys are really looking forward to the challenge ahead.
“It’s crucial that we get the performance right on Friday night. Do that, and the rest will fall into place.
“We know that Glasgow are now favourites for the fourth spot, but we won’t be giving up. We’ve got to keep on going, maintaining pressure on the teams above us in case they slip up.
“The top four have all got to play each other between now and the end of the season so we have to make sure that if results go our way, we can take advantage.”
Top Scorers – 2013/14 RaboDirect PRO12: Ospreys – Points: Dan Biggar 162; Tries: Jeff Hassler 6; Leinster – Points: Ian Madigan 114; Tries: Noel Reid 5
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
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
Friday, May 3, 2013 – Leinster 37 Ospreys 19, the RDS
Saturday, September 14, 2013 – Leinster 29 Ospreys 29, the RDS
– The Ospreys’ only victory in their last four RaboDirect PRO12 fixtures was 34-9 over Cardiff Blues at the Liberty Stadium in round 17
– The Ospreys have won just one of their last eleven contests with Irish provinces in all competitions: 43-26 over Connacht in Galway on September 28
– Leinster have won their last eight PRO12 matches since their 11-6 reversal to Edinburgh at Murrayfield on December 20
– The Leinstermen are unbeaten in their last 14 fixtures with Welsh regions in all competitions
– The two sides have met on three occasions this season with Leinster winning home and away in the Heineken Cup, but sharing a 29-all draw at the RDS in round 2 of the PRO12
– The Ospreys have won their last three games against Leinster at the Liberty Stadium in the PRO12