Leinster and Ospreys set for grand finale
May 28, 2010
Leinster coach Michael Cheika will swap the Magners League for the Top 14 next season © PA Photos
Leinster and Ospreys go head-to-head in the inaugural Magners League Grand Final at the RDS in Dublin on Saturday with celtic supremacy up for grabs.
The match throws together the two sides that topped the table at the end of the regular season and one of them will become the first team to have won the title three times. Both sides have navigated their way through the first-ever semi-final play-offs with Leinster accounting for Irish rivals Munster with a 16-6 victory that assured them of a return to the RDS for the season showpiece. The Ospreys' booked their place in the final with a 20-5 win against Glasgow at the Liberty Stadium that cemented their status as the league's second best side but was not enough to secure home advantage for the big one.
The formbook favours the hosts who have won their last six encounters with Ospreys including an 18-11 victory in Swansea in September and a narrow 20-16 success in Dublin last month - the Ospreys only defeat in their last six league games. With little to choose between the two sides on the domestic front the European form of both would perhaps provide further pointers and having made this year's semi-finals, where they lost to eventual winners Toulouse, Leinster's case would appear to be strengthened. But the Ospreys can also boast a notable Heineken Cup campaign where they were only just edged out by finalists Biarritz in the last eight.
The Ospreys got their season back on track following their Heineken Cup exit by taking 10 points from a possible 15 during three games across the Irish Sea in the space of just 12 days - a run that included a bonus-point victory at Ulster and an historic triumph over Munster at Thomond Park
If the Ospreys are to upset the odds and hand Leinster a first league defeat at the RDS since September 2008, they will need to extend their impressive attacking form that brought them 37 tries during the regular season with winger Tommy Bowe, named both the Welsh and Irish Players' Player of the Season earlier this month, bagging seven five-pointers to take him clear at the top of the Magners League all-time standings. The influence of fly-half Dan Biggar will also be key, with the rising star nearing 200 points this season, but the Ospreys can boast international class throughout their ranks with the likes of Welsh wing wizard Shane Williams, fullback Lee Byrne, scrum-half Mike Phillips and centre James Hook lighting up the backline and former All Blacks Jerry Collins and Marty Holah and Wales captain Ryan Jones providing a formidable forward platform.
But Leinster have an accomplished No.10 of their own in Ireland international Jonathan Sexton, who boasts a better success rate than his rival, and he returned from injury to help the province see of Munster in the final four. Leinster have not been found wanting for tries either with fullback Rob Kearney weighing in with 8 tries in 16 appearances this season while Ireland's Player of the Year, Jamie Heaslip, has recently capped another fine season with selection for the Magners League 'Dream Team' alongside team-mates Brian O'Driscoll and Leo Cullen. However, they were trumped by the Ospreys for whom Bowe, Hook, Collins and tight-head Adam Jones made the grade.
The game also promises an emotional edge with Leinster coach Michael Cheika bound for French side Stade Francais next season while South African prop CJ van der Linde and scrum-half Chris Keane are also moving on. Veteran lock Malcolm O'Kelly, fullback Girvan Dempsey and Bernard Jackman are all retiring. But Cheika insists there will be no room for sentiment come kick-off.
"It's not about me or any of the individual players," said Cheika. "It's about the club and making the club better. It has always been about that. And that's how we'll look back anyway on the contribution that we make whether it's as coaches or players. We'll have plenty of time to say goodbye afterwards. This is about winning the game."
Leinster will be without their captain and second-row Cullen, who is due to have an operation this week on the shoulder injury that has ruled him out of Ireland's summer tour. Cian Healy has been struck by illness in the build up to the game but takes his place on the bench, bracketed with Mike Ross.
Nathan Hines and O'Kelly form the second-row pairing in the absence of Cullen while Stan Wright, John Fogarty and van der Linde start up front. Shane Jennings skippers the side with Kevin McLoughlin and Heaslip completing the back-row. Sexton is paired with Eoin Reddan at halfback.
Ospreys head coach Sean Holley is determined to see his side finish the season on a high after coming up short elsewhere this season. "What we work towards ultimately is the major trophies," he said. "We consider this to be a major trophy and one we've worked hard towards all season."
Games such as this call for big performances from big name players and the cast list for the RDS is not short of those. With an abundance of attacking talent there is also hope that this game could produce a thrilling encounter but as is often the case, the high stakes and the occasion may play their part in proceedings. Expect a brutal clash and a fitting grand finale.
Leinster: Rob Kearney; Shane Horgan, Brian O'Driscoll, Gordon D'Arcy, Isa Nacewa; Jonathan Sexton, Eoin Reddan; Stan Wright, John Fogarty, CJ van der Linde, Nathan Hines, Malcolm O'Kelly, Kevin McLaughlin, Shane Jennings (capt), Jamie Heaslip
Replacements: Richardt Strauss, Cian Healy/Mike Ross, Trevor Hogan, Stephen Keogh, Paul O'Donohoe, Fergus McFadden, Girvan Dempsey
Ospreys: Lee Byrne; Tommy Bowe, Andrew Bishop, James Hook, Shane Williams; Dan Biggar, Mike Phillips; Paul James, Huw Bennett, Adam Jones, Alun Wyn Jones, Jonathan Thomas, Jerry Collins, Marty Holah, Ryan Jones (capt)
Replacements: Ed Shervington, Ryan Bevington, Ian Gough, Filo Tiatia, Jamie Nutbrown, Gareth Owen, Nikki Walker
Referee: Chris White (England)
Assistant Referees: Andy Macpherson (Scotland), David Changleng (Scotland)
Firdose Moonda looks at the moves towards greater integration within South African rugby ... and what the future holds
Martin Gillingham looks ahead to what he believes is the most remarkable ever climax to the league phase of the Top 14
With just two rounds left in the regular season, we look at the prospects of the teams taking part in the Championship play-offs
Joe Simpson talks to Charlie Morgan about loss, Wasps and being England's game-breaker