Thursday 18 January 2018

Leaders provide litmus test for Leinster

Leinster v Ospreys, The RDS, tonight, ko 7.35 - TG4

Leinster boss Leo Cullen and captain Isa Nacewa face the media
Leinster boss Leo Cullen and captain Isa Nacewa face the media
Noel Reid’s partnership in the centre with Garry Ringrose will be tested tonight

Isa Nacewa was not about to bite down on the bait thrown his way as Joey Carbery makes way for Johnny Sexton.

"Ah look, Johnny's experience speaks for itself," issued Leinster's club captain.

"He's a world-class ten. He loves the pressure and he loves the responsibility of being out there leading."

At 20 years of age, Carbery is where Sexton once was, as the precocious young pup desperate to make his way in the game.

The animosity Sexton once held for one Ronan O'Gara, because the Munster man was standing between him and what he most wanted has been replaced by maturity and the embrace of commitment to the team ethic at his club.

"Johnny takes a lot of weight off the rest of the guys around him and uses that. That's how he likes to run the game.

"He's helped Joey all season, just as he's helped the other tens," said Nacewa, about Cathal Marsh and Ross Byrne.


"There is a good feeling within the group, giving back to one another, helping each other through the season."

Leinster will need all their unity of purpose to bring the Ospreys to their knees for the first time in four rounds of rugby.

The Ospreys come to Dublin with confidence, cohesion and the spark in attack that has grown into 21 tries in their first three matches.

"You know when you play Ospreys it is going to be one of the hardest fixtures of the year," acknowledged Nacewa.

"It is a good rivalry and one that you want to be a part of."

Even though Leinster have had the better of the battle, losing just one of the last nine to their guests, the sting of previous defeats still rankle from the 2010 and 2012 Celtic League Grand Finals, both at the RDS.

"They've had some good days here and that always sits in the back of your mind," recalled Aucklander.

"It's always going to be a tough game when you play the Ospreys."

The Welsh will have noticed how Edinburgh made headway through the middle of Leinster's defence last week as Garry Ringrose and Noel Reid, known more for what they bring in attack than defence, were strong-armed in the tackle.

This is where Sam Davies, as a second receiver, and the hulking Josh Matavesi could become a problem for what is certain to be a busy back row of Jordi Murphy, Josh van der Flier and Jamie Heaslip.

"He (Davies) has a very strong kicking game, is skilful, almost a second ten for them the way they play," illustrated coach Leo Cullen. "A lot of play goes through Matavesi as well and they've got some really good ball players there."

It will be informative to see how the Reid-Ringrose axis operates in defence and how the Ospreys look to manipulate it.

"There's no bigger challenge in the PRO12 than going to the RDS to face a fully loaded Leinster," said coach Steve Tandy.


"We've made a positive start to the season, but we know it doesn't count for anything at this point."

It could go either way in what will be a true test for Leinster and the leaders.

Leinster: Z Kirchner; I Nacewa (capt), G Ringrose, N Reid, D Kearney; J Sexton, L McGrath; C Healy, S Cronin, T Furlong, D Toner, M Kearney, J Murphy, J van der Flier, J Heaslip.

The Ospreys: S Davies; J Hassler, A Beck, J Matavesi, B John; D Biggar, R Webb; P James, S Baldwin, D Arhip, L Ashley, AW Jones (capt), J King, J Tipuric, T Ardron.

Verdict: Leinster.

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