1st September 2011 19:36
The renamed RaboDirect PRO12 will burst into life at the Liberty Stadium with this meeting of former league champions, the Ospreys and Leinster. An away win would be a fitting way to mark Kevin McLaughlin’s 50th senior appearance for the province.
OSPREYS v LEINSTER, Liberty Stadium, 7.05pm (live BBC 2 Wales/highlights RTÉ Two)
Team News: The Leinster team to face the Ospreys at the Liberty Stadium in the opening round of the RaboDirect PRO12 has been named.
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Making his 50th senior appearance for Leinster, Kevin McLaughlin will start in a back row which includes Dominic Ryan and stand-in captain Rhys Ruddock.
There are competitive debuts for the half-back pairing of John Cooney and Mat Berquist, while second row Damian Browne also comes in for his first start.
Browne will link up with Ireland international Devin Toner, and Heinke van der Merwe has been named in the front row alongside Richardt Strauss and recent signing Jamie Hagan.
Luke Fitzgerald partners the fit-again Eoin O’Malley at centre, while the exciting David Kearney, Fionn Carr and Isa Nacewa will form the back-three.
There are six recent Leinster Academy graduates on the replacements bench. Amongst them is scrum half Cillian Willis, who rejoined the province this summer having made the last of his 12 appearances in the 2007/08 season.
Meanwhile, like Leinster, the Ospreys will start the new season without a number of their first choice players. Ten of their squad are away on Rugby World Cup duty, while winger Nikki Walker and hooker Richard Hibbard are on the injury list.
Notably, South African-born winger Hanno Dirksen is the one and only non-Welsh qualified player in the Ospreys’ chosen starting line-up.
Jerry Collins, Mike Phillips, James Hook and Lee Byrne may have departed the region, but the Justin Tipuric-captained side still contains a number of quality operators like Dan Biggar, Duncan Jones, Ian Evans and Jonathan Thomas.
The Ospreys have played two pre-season friendlies, going down 38-10 to Lyon on French soil before posting a 46-19 victory over Ireland’s World Cup Pool C opponents, Russia, at home last Sunday.
OSPREYS: Richard Fussell; Kristian Phillips, Andrew Bishop, Ashley Beck, Hanno Dirksen; Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb; Duncan Jones, Mefin Davies, Cai Griffiths, Ian Gough, Ian Evans, Tom Smith, Justin Tipuric (capt), Jonathan Thomas.
Replacements: Matthew Dwyer, Ken Dowding, Joe Rees, James King, Morgan Allen, Tom Isaacs, Matthew Morgan, Sonny Parker.
LEINSTER: Isa Nacewa; Fionn Carr, Eoin O’Malley, Luke Fitzgerald, David Kearney; Mat Berquist, John Cooney; Heinke van der Merwe, Richardt Strauss, Jamie Hagan, Damian Browne, Devin Toner, Kevin McLaughlin, Dominic Ryan, Rhys Ruddock (capt).
Replacements: Aaron Dundon, Jack McGrath, Jack O’Connell, Mark Flanagan, Leo Auva’a, Cillian Willis, Ian Madigan, Brendan Macken.
Referee: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Gwyn Morris, Jon Mason (both Wales)
Television Match Official: Neil Ballard (Wales)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ospreys to win: 10/11; Draw: 19/1; Leinster to win: 10/11
Pre-Match Quotes: Rhys Ruddock (Leinster) – “Pre-season has been really good. Obviously a lot of the lads have been away on international duty, but we’ve got a good tightness between the lads who are here and we’re really looking forward to the first game.
“The friendlies were good opportunities to get some combinations together, people who hadn’t play together before and bringing new lads in for their first games and getting them to learn the calls.
“They were competitive games, we managed to win the first one (against the Melbourne Rebels) and the second one was against a really strong Northampton outfit. I thought we held our own and made a lot of improvements from the previous week.
“We were happy enough with the performance, but we’ll be looking for the result this Friday. It was a much more physical performance from us (than in the Melbourne game), and we finished strongly with two tries near the end.
“The Ospreys are a good strong team, they have a really good defence and they’ll be tough to break down. We’ll need to improve again in our attack shape if we’re looking to score some tries this weekend.
“Certainly it’ll be a tough test for us, and we’re looking forward to it. We’re looking for a physical performance and to match them in all those areas – the scrum, lineout particularly, get those areas sealed off…just looking to impose ourselves physically.
“There’s a lot of lads hoping to make their mark, whether they are new to Leinster or younger lads stepping up and looking to get that starting position in the team for the coming weeks.”
Scott Johnson (Ospreys) – “We’re really looking forward to Friday night, it’ll be good to get back into the serious stuff after a tough pre-season and it should a good test for where we are.
“It’s important that we get off to a good start, but we’re up against a good team in Leinster, regardless of how many players they have away at the Rugby World Cup.
“This group of players have come together really well over the summer, they’ve been diligent, worked hard, and are ready to go. They know their roles, what they’ve got do and they are desperately keen to do well for the Ospreys.
“We are particularly proud that given the number of players that are away, we can field a team on Friday night that has 14 Welshmen in the starting line-up.
“That’s a great achievement in the circumstances and something that the region should be proud of. They’ll be up against a Leinster team that while shorn of its Irish internationals, will still possess a lot of experience, and a lot of players who have experience from different countries.
“But we’ve got belief in this group of players to make a positive impression this season. These players, and a lot of them are still young kids making their first steps as a rugby player with their home region, have a good attitude.
“They want to wear the shirt with pride, and I sincerely hope that our supporters share our excitement, our sense of optimism and really get behind them this season.”
Pre-Match Multimedia Links –
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
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
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
– The 2009/10 finalists meet in the opening round of RaboDirect PRO12. The Ospreys have begun the season at home on four previous occasions and won all four of those matches
– The Ospreys were semi-finalists in the 2010/11 campaign despite winning just one of their last six matches, a 12-10 victory at Aironi in round 22
– The Welshmen are winless in their last two matches at the Liberty Stadium but have never gone three home games in this tournament without a victory
– Leinster’s previous form in the opening round of a new season has seen them gain just one victory since 2002, a 23-8 triumph at home to Edinburgh in 2007
– The reigning Heineken Cup champions lost last season’s grand final to Munster, but won six of their last seven regular season encounters
– The Ospreys have won just two of their last nine clashes with Leinster. Overall, Leinster have the best record for any visiting side to the Liberty Stadium, having handed Ospreys a quarter of their 12 losses at the venue in the competition