Saturday 17 March 2018

Blues keep Bent fresh to make his Ireland bow

Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

LEINSTER and Ospreys renew a bubbling rivalry tomorrow and there is a debutant in the province's side -- but not the one that might have been expected.

Michael Bent isn't named in the Leinster 23, meaning it looks like the New Zealand-born tighthead has been propelled straight into the Ireland squad to face South Africa in a week's time.

Admittedly, Ireland could still call the likes of Tony Buckley into the squad next week, but Bent looks to be ahead of the rest in the race to put pressure on incumbent No 3 Mike Ross.

Should Bent feature against the Springboks, he would become the first home-based player to play for Ireland before his province since Brian O'Driscoll back in 1999.

Instead, another Kiwi, Andrew Goodman, makes his bow in a side that shows a host of changes from the one that hammered Cardiff last week.

Goodman starts at inside-centre alongside Brendan Macken, with Ian Madigan back to his more familiar role at out-half, having deputised at full-back in recent weeks.

Madigan was mentioned as an option at No 15 for the South Africa game by Declan Kidney this week, but with Denis Hurley's inclusion and Felix Jones' return from injury, that would seem a long shot.

Madigan, along with Dave Kearney, is one of only two backs to survive from last week in a team charged with reversing a sequence that has seen Leinster lose four of their last five encounters with the Welsh region.

Kearney takes the full-back jersey, with Andrew Conway and Fionn Carr starting on the wings in what will be a good test of the Leinster squad's strength.

"They are very strong and we have had some close games in the last few years and unfortunately we have come up second best on some occasions," agreed flanker Rhys Ruddock, who made his first start of the season last weekend.

"Like us, they have lost a number of players, but they also have a very strong squad."

That strong squad saw the Ospreys win their first six games of the campaign last season, which laid the foundations for their Pro12 success.


They also have a formidable record against the provinces. Of the last eight times an Irish side visited Liberty Stadium, only Ulster, two months ago, came away with a win, while Leinster haven't won there since 2009.

They have debutants at hooker and at lock, while Leinster's bench is made up entirely of academy graduates, including Jordi Murphy, who picked up the Man of the Match award against Cardiff last weekend.

The Ospreys also have to plan for the Anglo-Welsh Cup this month, meaning they'll have to go very deep into their resources, something their backs coach Gruff Rees is prepared for.

"Last season's title success was driven by the core group of players who were around in the international periods, who got that great six-game winning start to the season to put us in a great position, beat a full-strength Munster in November and kept things going in February," he said.

"We need these players to step up to the mark in the same way.

"We'll be expecting some of the players involved this month to have a similar impact so it's exciting as coaches and players, and I'd expect our supporters to feel the same."

Verdict: Leinster

Ospreys -- R Fussell; H Dirksen, T Isaacs, A Bishop, E Walker; M Morgan, R Webb; D Jones, M Dwyer, J Rees; L Peers, J Thomas; G Stowers, S Lewis, J Bearman. Reps: A Ellis, M Thomas, D Suter, J King, M Allen, K Foutuali'I, J Spratt, R Jones.

Leinster -- D Kearney; A Conway, B Macken, A Goodman, F Carr; I Madigan, I Boss; H van der Merwe, T Sexton, J Hagan; D Browne, D Toner; R Ruddock, S Jennings, L Auva'a. Reps: J Tracy, J McGrath, M Moore, B Marshall, J Murphy, J Cooney, N Reid, S Coghlan-Murray.

Ref --J Lacey (IRFU).

Ospreys v Leinster,

Live, RTE 2, 4.0

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