LEINSTER FACE THE Ospreys tomorrow evening [KO 8.00pm] knowing that one match point will secure them top spot in Pool 1 of the Heineken Cup.
However, a losing bonus point will be the last thing on the minds of Matt O’Connor’s players as they welcome the Welsh region to the RDS. A four-point win will be the minimum requirement for the Australian, and if Leinster are to achieve that they could start by dominating these head-to-heads.
Shane Jennings v Justin Tipuric
After a testing afternoon for Jordi Murphy against the effective Ibrahim Diarra last weekend, O’Connor has gone for a change at openside flanker. In comes the wily, intelligent Jennings to attempt to stifle the impact of Tipuric at the breakdown. The 32-year-old is a notable presence at attacking breakdowns, where he will need to be sharp against Tipuric’s turnover threat.
The Welshman has made 13 steals in the Heineken Cup this season – more than any other individual – and he’s also the Ospreys’ top tackler over the last five European games with 59. Tipuric’s work rate is undeniably impressive, while the 24-year-old also has the handling ability and spatial awareness of a centre.
Cian Healy v Adam Jones
Lion v Lion and a face-off between two men who could justifiably claim to be the best practitioners in their respective positions in world rugby. Healy’s return from injury last weekend was important in Leinster’s second-half momentum shift, with his assist for Murphy’s try an obvious highlight. The loosehead’s ball carrying always gives the eastern province another dimension.
Ankles strapped to the point of non-rotation, DJ Church was excellent against Castres. ©INPHO/Billy Stickland.
It is at the set-piece he will have his hands full, up against the wonderfully old-school Jones. The Welsh international can be destructive in the scrum, while he is also a superb line-out lifter. An area of the 32-year-old’s game that is often unnoticed is his rucking, where his occasionally violent clear-outs allow the Ospreys to keep the tempo high.
Rob Kearney v Sam Davies
Kearney has made the most carries of any Leinster player in this season’s H Cup, but it’s worth pointing out that that is down to the opposition kicking to him so regularly. Still, the figure shows the Louth man’s willingness to counter-attack and with 11 defenders beaten so far, Kearney is proving elusive. His leadership will once again be important as Leinster look to wrap up Pool 1.
Kearney is an assuring presence at the back for Leinster. ©INPHO/James Crombie.
Opposite him, 2013 IRB Junior Player of the Year Davies is growing increasingly comfortable in the fullback position at senior level. While tomorrow will only be the 20-year-old’s eighth professional start, he already looks the real deal. With a tactical understanding that belies his years, a strong kicking game and confident decision-making, he is a future Wales out-half. For now, he will look to challenge Leinster from deep.
Leinster: Rob Kearney; Dave Kearney, Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Luke Fitzgerald; Jimmy Gopperth, Eoin Reddan; Cian Healy, Sean Cronin, Martin Moore; Devin Toner, Mike McCarthy; Rhys Ruddock, Shane Jennings, Jamie Heaslip (captain).
Replacements: Richardt Strauss, Jack McGrath, Mike Ross, Leo Cullen, Jordi Murphy, Isaac Boss, Ian Madigan, Zane Kirchner.
Ospreys: Sam Davies ; Jeff Hassler, Jonathan Spratt, Ben John, Aisea Natoga; Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb; Ryan Bevington, Richard Hibbard, Adam Jones; Alun-Wyn Jones (captain), Ian Evans; Tyler Ardron, Justin Tipuric, Ryan Jones.
Replacements: Scott Baldwin, Marc Thomas, Dan Suter, Lloyd Peers, James King, Morgan Allen, Thomas Habberfield, Matthew Morgan.
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