Friday, February 18, 2022

Preview : Leinster v Ospreys



It has been a mixed week of news for Leinster - renewed contracts always put a smile on the face, extra so when it's a head coach that has overseen the most successful spell in the province's history.

That was of course offset by the announcement that Rónan Kelleher and Ciarán Frawley will face spells on the sidelines and hopefully both will return to action sooner rather than later.

Elsewhere there was some transfer news that indirectly affects us, with Eben Etzebeth signing for the Sharks, along with rumours that his fellow Springbok powerhouse Lood de Jagr could be also heading home, in this case to Cape Town's Stormers.

Leinster are due to face both teams on our South African swing at the end of April, and should we overcome our Western cousins in the Champions Cup last 16, our quarterfinal would be played the weekend after we return to the northern hemisphere.

All of which means that when it comes to our URC campaign, this match against the Ospreys, falling as it does in the middle of a 3-match series at the RDS, holds a lot of significance as we are going to want as many points in the bank as we can before we travel.

The injury to Frawley left the selectors with a decision to make in our starting centres, and the result has been Jamie Osborne going back to 13 from full back and Harry Byrne wearing 12 alongside his brother Ross at outhalf.

I thought Harry did reasonably well for his enforced spell in the role against Edinburgh and I wonder if the siblings will be chopping and changing positions throughout the match to keep our visitors guessing. One other thing his inclusion does is guarantee we still have multiple creative options with Jimmy O'Brien also able to show some footballing skills from 15. But as always a key element of our 12/13 combo's role will be that of defense and no doubt the Welsh region will do their best to test them to the full.

There's plenty of experience on the wing with Dave Kearney and Jordan Larmour, with the latter very much needing a big match display especially when you consider who is poised for a late cameo on this day.

Into the pack we go and the stand out name for me is that of Martin Moloney who wasn't meant to start last time out but still put in a very impressive display throughout to earn this one. Then in our second row there will be an interesting pairing of Ross Molony and Ryan Baird who could well be vying for a spot alongside James Ryan in our quest for star number 5 later in the season.

Cian Healy hasn't worn the 1 jersey much this season and is joined in the front row by James Tracy and Michael Ala'alatoa, all will be much needed in both set pieces and the loose.

When we get to the bench we see Sean Cronin will be waiting to make his 200th appearance for Leinster - with the rise of Messrs Kelleher and Sheehan, the 'Nugget' hasn't featured as much in blue but still has plenty to offer and it's always good when they reach these milestones in front of their home crowd.

There are also welcome returns from the bench for Jack Dunne, who was out for much of last year with injury and got named for the trip to Montpellier that never happened, and Rhys Ruddock, who would be making his own 200th appearance Saturday had he not been a late withdrawal last week.

But if anyone will be looking to make an impact in the latter stages it surely must be James Lowe. Mack Hansen has done really well in his stead in the Six Nations so being a natural competitor, Lowe will be keen to remind us all what he can do, not that he needed an incentive to do that anyway!

On the Osprey side of things, well just like us their last match was at home to Edinburgh although their victory was a lot closer. Stephen Myler may be only 5th on the league points chart but he has played over a 100 minutes less than those above him so he's not someone you want against you if you're shipping penalties. And his replacement on the bench Gareth Anscombe isn't so bad either.

There's also of course their skipper Rhys Webb, one of the peskiest Ospreys ever and always looking for an opportunity to pounce, while Keelan Giles on the wing will have to be watched. In the pack, Bradley Davies will be familiar to Irish fans but actually their pack did pretty well against Edinburgh and should prove a stent test.

Another familiar name is on their bench with Dan Lydiate set to introduce his trademark low tackling, and if the substitutions go a certain way then the commentators will face quite the challenge sorting out Luke Morgan, Morgan Morris and Rueben Morgan Williams...

Bookies have a home win by 22. I'm confident we can get the full five points, but I also have my doubts about our defensive standards with all the changes from 11-15 so as my prediction I'll go for a 12-14 point win in the hope that our backs will prove my horribly wrong, definitely not for the first time.

Unfortunately I won't be able to make it to the RDS this weekend so if you're going be sure to shout that extra bit louder for me, also I hope the weather holds up for you. As always I'll be offering my takes throughout on the twitter machine and I hope you'll be willing to head to the Facebook page at the fulltime whistle to leave your own thoughts. JLP

#FromTheGroundUp

Ospreys : 15. Dan Evans 14. Keelan Giles 13. Michael Collins 12. Keiran Williams 11. Luke Morgan 10. Stephen Myler 9. Rhys Webb > capt
1.Nicky Smith 2. Sam Parry 3. Tom Botha 4. Bradley Davies 5. Will Griffiths 6. Ethan Roots 7. Harri Deaves 8. Morgan Morris
16. Elvis Taione 17. Rhodri Jones 18. Rhys Henry 19. Lloyd Ashley 20. Dan Lydiate 21. Reuben Morgan Williams 22. Gareth Anscombe 23. Tiaan Thomas Wheeler.

United Rugby Championship 2021/22 - Round 12
Saturday, February 19, 2022
KO 5pm
RDS Arena

Referee: Gianluca Gnecchi (FIR)
AR1: Andrew Brace (IRFU)
AR2: Dan Carson (IRFU)
TMO: Leo Colgan (IRFU)

Live on: RTÉ, Premier Sports, URC.tv, S4C

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Taken by JLP from RDS press box on Nov 16, 2019