Wednesday 22 November 2017

All change but high-flying Leinster can clip Ospreys' wings

'That is the way we have been drawn,' noted Girvan Dempsey this week. Photo: Sportsfile
'That is the way we have been drawn,' noted Girvan Dempsey this week. Photo: Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Leinster remain focused on the present even though future prospects are tugging furiously at their sleeves. They have already coughed up one home semi-final this season, calamitous closure in Castres sending them on the road later this month.

"That is the way we have been drawn," noted Girvan Dempsey this week with a touch of lugubriosity that suggested their Champions Cup fates were divined merely by the means of rolling a die.

Except they were not; Leinster must face down Clermont on French soil because of their own limitations.

Similarly, Leinster have four league games remaining to secure their play-off position, and will presumably become better acquainted with the mathematical niceties than they were in European combat.

Losing another lucrative home semi-final would append further misfortune upon their aforementioned rank carelessness.

These are, though, better complaints to have rumbling rather than, as was mostly the case last season, the empty prospect of watching Europe's big beasts fight it out for the big prizes; Leinster couldn't even nab the consolation as Connacht swiped league fame.

A year on, they are strong favourites to regain this Guinness PRO12 title but, conscious that no away team has ever won an away semi-final, Leinster must retain their top-two placing and, perhaps, keep alive a remarkable prospect of two all-Irish finals in domestic and European competitions.

"We realise that we've got two big games coming up against he Ospreys and then Connacht," added backs coach Dempsey ahead of three away-days in their remaining four fixtures, their sole home outing against Glasgow in a tricky run-in.

"They are two massive games even before we turn our heads to Clermont.

"We know the Ospreys are going to be smarting after a loss to Treviso and a loss to Stade Francais.

"They know that it's a massive game for them, to keep in that hunt to be in the top two. That's what we want. As history shows, no away team has won a semi-final in the PRO12.

"They will be smarting. They will want to put in a performance at home. They've only lost one game there this season, a narrow loss to Munster.

"They have the second best defensive record in the League and they score points.

"They've got a strong pack, strong back row with (Sam) Underhill and (Dan) Baker and international quality across the backline, (Dan) Biggar, (Josh) Matavesi in the middle and lots of gas out wide.

"It is a similar test to Wasps from a backline point of view."

Leinster passed that test but, although their preparations will be uninterrupted between now and the end of May, their team selection cannot be, and hence they must shuffle their pack all the while.

And so Joey Carbery sadly vacates his full-back role, the gifted youngster instead slotting in at out-half alongside Jamison Gibson-Park in a mouth-watering half-back combination.

Outside, aside from Isa Nacewa's presence at full-back, the back-line is relatively untried, departing Zane Kirchner at outside-centre, for example, while Fergus McFadden and the returning Rory O'Loughlin vie to edge out the presently hamstrung Adam Byrne for the Clermont trip.

Significantly, the pack maintains much of its strength and heft, with Mike Ross, another departing player, set to arrive for his 150th appearance, eight years since making his Leinster debut in this country.

Ospreys look formidably strong but all Welsh regions are struggling to complete 80 minutes this term and they lost to Treviso in their last league game.

Leinster, who have lost just once to the Swansea side in five years, are unbeaten in 2017, a run that should continue

Verdict: Leinster

Ospreys - S Davies; K Giles, K Fonotia, J Matavesi, D Evans; D Biggar, R Webb (capt); N Smith, S Baldwin, B Mujati, L Ashley, R Thornton, O Cracknell, J Tipuric, D Baker. Reps: S Otten, P James, M Fia, B Davies, T Ardron, S Underhill, T Habberfield, J Spratt.
Leinster - I Nacewa (capt); R O'Loughlin, Z Kirchner, R Henshaw, F McFadden; J Carbery, J Gibson-Park; J McGrath, S Cronin, T Furlong, D Toner, M Kearney, R Ruddock, J van der Flier, J Conan. Reps: J Tracy, P Dooley, M Ross, I Nagle, D Leavy, N McCarthy, R Byrne, D Kearney.
Ref - J Lacey (IRFU).

Ospreys v Leinster
Live, Sky Sports 2, 3.0

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport