WATCH: Internationals return for tomorrow's #GUINNESSPRO14 match against @ospreys at the Liberty Stadium. #OSPvLEITake a look at the 23-man squad to represent Leinster 👇 pic.twitter.com/GuujFSDKgd
— Leinster Rugby (@leinsterrugby) March 23, 2018
Right folks...time to put the Grand Slam celebrations on hold with much silverware up for grabs this season...
There are just 4 rounds left in the Pro 14 regular season and Leinster appear well poised with a three-point lead in Conference B, four if you count the big advantage in points difference. And with home matches against both Italian sides next for us, that would appear to be a comfortable enough position.
However...as things stand right now, I wouldn't call this trip to the Liberty Stadium as one that can be sacrificed, even if it is a week before the big date with Saracens. First place in the conference and the rest week plus home semifinal that comes with it has to be in our sights and with our final match being in Galway, I really don't want us needing anything from it.
Now the Scarlets do have a much rougher run-in starting with Munster at Thomond Park, but if they can get a result there, which is far from out of the question, they could be top of the table at the end of the weekend if we fall short in Swansea.
Definitely the best thing about Leinster's lineup for Saturday is the return of Luke McGrath, as captain no less. A timely comeback for a player that was very unlucky not to be involved in Ireland's Six Nations campaign.
One that wasn't so lucky was Jordan Larmour, but thankfully full back is one of several positions at which we have options aplenty - Dave Kearney did very well there against the Scarlets, you don't need me to tell you how well his brother has done of late, and on this occasion we have Joey Carbery reverting to his alter ego once more.
Some have questioned Joey toggling back and forth between outhalf and full back, but I reckon this is a 'problem' of Ross Byrne's making - it would be cruel to drop him after the constant improvement in his displays, and besides, with Dave wearing 22 I have to assume Joey is officially Byrne's cover. It's definitely one of those 'good kind of problems' for Leo & co.
The Ospreys had been regressing in the early stages of the season, but lately they have won four out of their last five, are gunning for a European slot, and as we all know, love beating Leinster - this was the league's first 'organically-grown' rivalry. With names like AWJ, Bradley Davies, Tipuric and Biggar in their lineup, you know they'll mean business. Personally I can't wait to see the second row battle as Scott Fardy gets in amongst them.
Unfortunately John Lacey is the ref - I don't say that because I have anything in particular against him as many seem to have, it's just as I have said many times before I believe there should always be officials from neutral unions. No matter how professional they may be, it's an awkward position for them to be in and it practically invites controversy.
But nothing I say is going to change it and Leinster have to get on with the job at hand - as always with trips to Welsh regions it will be important to take the home crowd out of the game early...the longer those Ospreys think they're in with a sniff, the more pesky they'll get.
The bookies have us winning by seven...I do like the look of our bench but I think it might be a little closer so I'll go for 4-6pts which I would definitely take especially if there are no injuries.
Sadly the match is only on S4C - I know some people can receive it in Ireland but it's a shame TG4 couldn't manage to work their YouTube magic as they did for a Connacht match a few weeks ago. Anyway, here's to a Leinster win that would set us up nicely for Easter Sunday. JLP
Ospreys : 15 Dan Evans 14 Jeff Hassler 13 Kieron Fonotia 12 Ashley Beck 11 Hanno Dirksen 10 Dan Biggar 9 Tom Habberfield
1 Nicky Smith 2 Scott Otten 3 Dmitri Arhip 4 Bradley Davies 5 Alun Wyn Jones (Capt) 6 Olly Cracknell 7 Justin Tipuric 8 Sam Cross
REPLACEMENTS 16 Ifan Phillips 17 Rhodri Jones 18 Ma’afu Fia 19 Adam Beard 20 Rob McCusker 21 Matthew Aubrey 22 Sam Davies 23 Owen Watkin
Guinness Pro14 2017/18 - Round 18
Saturday, March 24, 2018
Referee: John Lacey (IRFU)
AR1: Andrew Brace (IRFU).
AR2: Frank Murphy (IRFU)
TMO: Simon McDowell (IRFU)