Thursday 23 November 2017

Opening day hammering for Leinster

New season, new sponsor, new trophy. But two familiar heavyweights of Celtic rugby battling for supremacy.

With five titles between them under the tournament's old guises, the players of both teams would have given the new Pro12 trophy more than a casual glance as they ran past it onto the field.

Shorn of 24 international players on World Cup duty -- Leinster 14 and the Ospreys 10 -- it was obvious the opening rounds of the new competition were going to be difficult for the top teams, but Joe Schmidt would never have expected to find his side 27-3 adrift at half-time, having conceded three tries.

It was in sharp contrast to Leinster's last competitive visit to Wales at the end of May when they carried off the Heineken Cup for the second time. There were, however, only a smattering of survivors from that great day in Cardiff, but even the likes of the dependable Isa Nacewa were rocked by the ferocity of the Ospreys' opening.

It took them three minutes to grab their first try, launched near half-way by full-back Richard Fussell and rounded off by scrum-half Rhys Webb, and their precision with the ball, and power in defence, saw them dominate possession and territory.

response

There was simply no response from the non-plussed visitors and before the half-hour mark Hanno Dirksen has crossed for a second try and Dan Biggar had added a second conversion, penalty and drop goal to make it 20-0.

It wasn't until shortly before the break that Leinster began to build up a head of steam with back-row men Kevin McLaughin and skipper Rhys Ruddock leading the charge. Yet their only reward was a penalty off the home 22 by new signing Matt Berquist, to which the Ospreys replied with their third try.

That fell to their outstanding skipper Justin Tipuric as he faithfully chased a Webb chip over the top in the Leinster 22 after yet another turn-over. Biggar nonchalantly stroked over the conversion and the home fans were beginning to believe all the talk of a youthful revolution at the Liberty Stadium.

Schmidt obviously rattled a few cages in the dressing-room at half-time because at least the Leinster pack came out to play in the second half. The change at scrum-half, where the more experienced Cillian Willis replaced John Cooney, also helped and the first-half dominance the Ospreys enjoyed was replicated for 20 minutes by Schmidt's men.

Shunning shots at goal, they kicked for the corners to set up driving line-outs, getting up to and, on one occasion, over the home line but never took any points. Irish official Peter Fitzgibbon asked the video referee to check if McLaughlin had grounded eight minutes after the break, but there was no joy.

Even when Tipuric was given a yellow card for one too many offences at the breakdown the visitors couldn't turn their numerical advantage into points. And so the score stayed the same with no tries for Leinster and no bonus point for the Ospreys.

To make it an even more miserable evening for Leinster, Luke Fitzgerald limped out of the action on the hour after picking up a knock to his right knee and will be taken for a scan.

Ospreys -- R Fussell; K Phillips (T Isaacs, 58), A Bishop, A Beck (S Parker, 66), H Dirksen; D Biggar (M Morgan, 72), R Webb; D Jones (J Rees, 62), M Davies(K Dowding, 76), C Griffiths (M Dwyer, 78), I Gough (J King, 66), I Evans, T Smith (M Allen, 58), J Tipuric, J Thomas.

Leinster -- I Nacewa; D Kearney, E O'Malley, L Fitzgerald (B Macken, 56), F Carr; M Berquist (I Madigan, 51), J Cooney (C Willis, 40); H van der Merwe (J O'Connell, 77), R Strauss (A Dundon, 66), J Hagan (J McGrath, 56), D Browne (M Flanagan, 56), D Toner, K McLaughlin, D Ryan, R Ruddock (L Auva'a, 61).

REF -- P Fitzgibbon (IRFU)

Irish Independent

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