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Sunday 24 September 2017

Leinster to bag first hat-trick

Leinster v The Ospreys, The RDS, Saturday (KO 6.30), Live Setanta Ireland

At one point, this would have been the aristocratic final, a duel of like-minded animals favouring flavour over function, style over the significance of silverware.

However, the gradual influence of coach Michael Cheika turned Leinster from entertainers to winners on the back of the 2008 Magners League and the 2009 Heineken Cup.

In comparison, The Ospreys could not build on their breakthrough Magners League seasons of 2005 and 2007 in the European Cup. They should have been their springboard to a better life in rugby. They were merely exceptions to the rule.



metronomic

The Welsh club can call on the metronomic out-half Dan Biggar, more Stephen Jones than James Hook, to steer it in the right direction. He is the leading points scorer (198) in the League.

The emergence of Biggar has forced Hook out into the centre where he has blossomed in much the same way that Gordon D'Arcy did when forced inside off the wing back in 2003.

Of course, coach Scott Johnson also has the top try-scorer in the League, our very own Tommy Bowe on the wing, aided and abetted by Shane Williams on the other end of the three-quarter line, and Lee Byrne at full-back.

Cheika has already indicated how "they think they can get us in the tight five," alluding to the absence of Leo Cullen for Leinster and the presence of British & Irish Lions Adam Jones and Alun-Wyn Jones there for Ospreys.

Cian Healy, Stan Wright, John Fogarty, Richardt Strauss and CJ van der Linde will have to share the workload in the front row with Malcolm O'Kelly destined to be the fulcrum of the lineout one last time in his illustrious career.

Behind that, Mike Phillips has already given a nod in the general direction of Jamie Heaslip. His form this season has been nothing short of spectacular.

He is simply performing at a different standard to everyone else in his carrying, defence, work-rate and, most importantly, in his canny knack for producing big moments for his club.

From there, a lot of the responsibility will fall on the shoulders of Jonathan Sexton. His 75.93pc place-kicking return is the third best in the League.

Champions in 2001 and 2008, Leinster would become the first club to win the Magners for the third time. So too would The Ospreys from their victories in 2005 and 2007.

It could go down to the wire where Leinster's match winning mentality, developed by Cheika, could make all the difference.

Verdict: Leinster

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