Jonathan Sexton returns to the Leinster line-up for the first time this season as the Boys in Blue take on Guinness PRO12 leaders Ospreys, on Friday.
With Leinster having won two of their opening three league fixtures, losing only at Scotstoun, to Glasgow Warriors, head coach Leo Cullen welcomes Sexton back to the fray following the fly half’s shoulder surgery.
And despite his talisman going under the knife this summer, Cullen is confident Sexton is fully fit and ready to do battle at the RDS Arena.
“He’s trained well over the last number of weeks,” said Cullen. “He’s been fully involved in training.
“Some injured players come back and they’re back on the field and they’re almost straight into it, whereas he’s managed himself – non-contact for a number of weeks.
“He’s in a good place, training well. I’m looking forward to seeing him in action.”
Ospreys head to the RDS on the back of three bonus-point wins, and Cullen is expecting a tough battle against the four-time Celtic League winners.
“They’re very physical,” he added. “They’re a team that we have a lot of respect for because we’ve had some really good tussles with them over the years.
“They’ve got a lot of international experience coming in. They’ve come out of the traps very quickly this year, they’ve got maximum points.
“We know over the years the threats that they pose: some smart footballers, really good half-backs with international experience.
“They’re very strong in the contact areas. It’s important that we are smart in the way we play because they’re a team that will put you under a lot of pressure.”
While Leinster welcome Sexton back, Ospreys hand a first start of the season to their own superstar fly-half, Dan Biggar.
The 26-year-old came on as a replacement in last week’s Round 3 win over Benetton Treviso, but the Wales international gets his first start while in-form Sam Davies moves to full-back.
And whatever the result, there will be celebrations for the Wales region as Alun Wyn-Jones chalks up his 200thappearance for Ospreys.
Head coach Steve Tandy, said: “There’s no bigger challenge in the Guinness PRO12 than going to the RDS to face a fully loaded Leinster team so we know we’re in for a tough evening.
“We’ve made a positive start to the season but we know it doesn’t count for anything at this point. We have to go up a few levels now with Ulster away and then the Blues at the Liberty coming up after this weekend.
“We’ll definitely have a better grasp of where we are at in a few weeks time.
“What’s been particularly pleasing over the last few weeks has been how the players have transferred what they’ve been working on during the week into the 80 minutes on matchday.
“They know what is required of them, what they are expected to do, and they’ve been relentless in each of the three games so far. The attention to detail has largely been there and that’s reflected on the scoreboard.”
Leinster: Kirchner, Nacewa, Ringrose, Reid, Kearney D, Sexton, McGrath L, Healy, Cronin, Furling, Toner, Kearney M, Murphy, van der Flier, Heaslip
Replacements: Tracy, McGrath J, Ross, Molony, Ruddock, Leavy, Gibson-Park, Carbery
Ospreys: Davies, Hassler, Beck, Matavesi, John, Biggar, Webb, James, Baldwin, Arhip, Ashley, Jones, King, Tipuric, Ardron
Replacements: Parry, Smith, Fia, Davies, Baker, Habberfield, Howells, Evans
Overall Guinness PRO12 head to head record:
Played 28, Leinster won 14, Ospreys won 11 and 3 games drawn
At RDS Arena, 7:35pm. Live on TG4 and BBC Wales
Referee: Marius Mitrea (FIR, 55th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Matteo Liperini (FIR), Stuart Gaffikin (IRFU)
Citing Commissioner: Eugene Ryan (IRFU)
TMO: Carlo Damasco (FIR)
A Jonathan Sexton-inspired Leinster brought Ospreys’ 100 per cent record to an end as they completed a bonus-point 31-19 win over the former Guinness PRO12 leaders.
Alun Wyn Jones’ 200th appearance in an Ospreys shirt was almost memorable for a fine comeback, but in the end his side went down by four tries to three.
Josh van der Flier grabbed a try-double while Sexton crossed for one of his own and Leinster were awarded a penalty try, meaning efforts from Ben John, Dafydd Howells and James King, for Ospreys, were in vain.
Making his return to the side following shoulder surgery, Sexton was given a simple chance to put the Boys in Blue ahead in the fifth minute, as the visitors infringed at the breakdown, just to the right of the posts.
And the home side were looking to add to their three-point advantage in the opening ten minutes, going close after Jones lost a lineout, but fine work from Scott Baldwin forced an Ospreys turnover, just five yards from their own try line.
The RDS crowd had to wait another ten minutes before the first try came, but come it did, as van der Flier powered over from three yards to extend Leinster’s lead – but only after it was referred to the TMO – with Sexton converting.
Ospreys had their first true chance after 20 minutes, as Josh Matavesi broke clear down the right, but Jeff Hassler was brilliantly tackled by Isa Nacewa as he looked to be closing on the try line.
And the visitors were down to 14 just before the half hour as Dimitri Artip was sent to the bin for a tackle on Nacewa.
And moments later Leinster thought they had scored a second try, but the TMO adjudged there was a knock-on before Luke McGrath picked up and dived over in the left corner.
But they did get the try from the resulting scrum and drive, as the referee awarded a penalty try when Ospreys collapsed the scrum just short of the line, with Sexton adding the extras.
The visitors seemed to be getting a foothold in the game as the first half drew to a close, but they were hit with a sucker punch as Matavesi lost possession in the 40th minute and Leinster broke clear, with Sexton crossing after the Boys in Blue recycled the ball quickly.
And the returning fly-half converted his own try to give the home side a commanding 24-point lead at the break.
Ospreys had opened their season with three bonus-point victories, but it was van der Flier that gave the home side their bonus point, running a diagonal to cross the line after collecting McGrath’s pass, with Sexton adding the conversion to make it 31-0 in the 47th minute.
The visitors’ evening, up until now, was summed up in the 49th minute as Matavesi broke clear with a sparkling run, selling dummies left and right before passing to Rhys Webb, but the scrum half fumbled with the try line in sight.
But they did get the try their increased presence in the game deserved, as Dan Biggar threw an outrageous behind-the-back pass to set up John for a simple cross in the left corner – Biggar could only hit the post with the conversion attempt, though.
And a second nearly came with 13 minutes to go, but the Ospreys break was brought to a halt inside the Leinster 22.
In the aftermath, Sexton’s fine performance was marred by a yellow card for an illegal tackle, and Ospreys capitalised, crossing with eight minutes to go as Biggar set up Howells to touch down in the corner, and the fly-half added the extras to reduce the deficit to 19.
And 19 became 12 with seven minutes remaining as Sam Davies jinked his way through the Leinster defence, before feeding King for a simple finish and handing Biggar an easy conversion.
But the comeback wasn’t to be for the visitors, and neither was the bonus point, as they had to settle for three tries, despite nine phases after the 80 minutes were up.
Guinness PRO12 Final 2017 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 adults and €5 child, and be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie. For further information visit http://www.pro12rugby.com/final
22 Sep 2016
20 Sep 2016