Key Clash Preview: Leinster v Ospreys
Date: 27th May 2012
Referee: Romain Poite
Venue: RDS Stadium
Just when you thought Leinster could not get any better, they stepped up yet another notch last weekend against Ulster in the Heineken Cup Final. Far from dominant in possession or territory in the opening stages, they were brutally clinical with their first two tries, proving you can never give them even a sniff of a chance. The 42-14 scoreline may have arguably been quite flattering by the final whistle, but the way they cut Ulster down so often and dominated in the set-piece was a credit to their legacy.
Now, they have a chance to become the first side to complete a RaboDirect Pro12 and Heineken Cup double. Even for a side such as Leinster, putting the celebrations of becoming the greatest Heineken Cup team of all time to one side cannot have been an easy process. Their focus however will have been directed by the outstanding Joe Schmidt to adding yet another trophy to the collection.
The fact that many consider the Ospreys as favorites for Sunday’s clash is a credit to their outstanding form over the last few rounds of the RaboDirect Pro12 season. This was underlined by the their incredible semi-final win over Munster at the Liberty Stadium, scoring five tries and hammering the champions in their traditional strongholds of the scrum and the lineout.
Many feared or rather assumed that following the exodus of the galacticos at the end of last season that the Ospreys were headed for a descent. Instead, they have taken stock and since the appointment of Steve Tandy in February have thrown off their shackles and set about playing with real width and ambition, meaning the results have been no coincidence. By getting the best out of Dan Biggar and with promising stars Ashley Beck and Hanno Dirksen shining in the back line, they have a strong chance this weekend in Dublin.
What to Expect:
You would assume that if the Ospreys can topple the Munster scrum, then they can take on anyone. But even the great John Afoa struggled to get on top of Cian Healy last weekend, which is an ominous sign for Lions prop Adam Jones. The genius of Johann Muller was not enough to see Ulster dominate the lineout last weekend, but Alun Wyn Jones has had success over the Ireland lineout in the Six Nations. Facing Brad Thorn though – a man whose medal collection is reaching levels of absurdity – is a different matter.
Justin Tipuric has to get into Leinster at the breakdown to slow down the speed of their recycling. Away from the pack, Dan Biggar will need to raise his game against the guile and grace of Johnny Sexton, whilst the Ospreys must not fall into the trap that Ulster stumbled into last weekend of always playing to the wings.
Head to Head: Isa Nacewa & Hanno Dirksen
After a relatively quiet Heineken Cup Final by his illustrious standards, Nacewa will look to continue celebrating his new deal with the province by being part of history this weekend. The improvement in his game since he made the move north from the Auckland Blues has been enormous, cementing himself as one of the game’s great catchers under the high ball and augmenting his already impressive skills with the boot and in hand.
Dirksen has been been a real surprise package this season, more than filling the void left by Tommy Bowe when the Irish star was away at the Rugby World Cup or injured on the sidelines. The South African born flyer is on Wales’ radar and has exceptional pace, able to make something out of nothing much like his fellow winger Shane Williams.
Ones to Watch: Sean Cronin & Shane Williams
Forced to play second fiddle to Richardt Strauss last weekend at Twickenham, Cronin’s development is ongoing but he will have a big role to play this summer for Ireland on their tour to New Zealand, competing with Rory Best. Brilliant around the park, his set-piece work still needs improvement but big finals such as the one on Sunday are all part of his development.
Meanwhile, it will be with a heavy heart that the Ospreys say goodbye to Shane Williams. His final game will be for the Barbarians against Wales, but to finish with another Celtic League title for the region to whom he has remained so loyal over the years would bring him great joy. There would be no better way for this final to be decided than for Williams to win it with a moment of magic.
Given the quality of their success last weekend, it feels wrong to doubt Leinster. But with the draining emotion of Heineken Cup glory in the back of their minds all week, there is the possibility of them being slightly off the pace. The Ospreys have enjoyed an outstanding run and a win would be no surprise. Perhaps the comforts of the RDS will be enough to see Leinster through. Leinster by 6
by Ben Coles