Leinster have a plethora of internationals in New Zealand. A combination of RWC and a summer clear-out has changed the face of the Ospreys. It is difficult to know exactly what to expect from these teams in the opening game of the RaboPro12.
Despite Leinster’s missing masses, there are a number of familiar faces in the team, a reflection of Joe Schmidt’s equitable selection policy and coaching prowess. Rhys Ruddock captains the team from number 8. Ruddock was strangely unlucky last season. Precluded from Leinster’s opening game last season because of his involvement with Ireland during the summer time, he always seemed one step behind Dom Ryan in the coaches’ eyes and Ryan got the nod for some big games. Sean O’Brien came back from injury revitalised and Kevin McLaughlin’s international status and lineout ability earned him a number of selections. Ruddock has been well touted through the youth ranks and looked outstanding against Racing Metro in the away tie last January. Hopefully the game time afforded to him at the start of this season will allow him to capitalise on his potential.
John Cooney’s combination with Mat Berquist will also be of note. Ireland haven’t produced a top quality scrum half in the professional era. Peter Stringer’s many attributes were compromised by the lack of a breaking threat. The surprise selection of Isaac Boss for the RWC provides Cooney game time at the top level, which he might not have expected some weeks ago. Berquist and Nacewa provide Leinster’s best chance of grabbing an away win. With both teams sure to be rusty due to new combinations, it is likely that the Kiwis’ habits and nous will create opportunities.
The Ospreys came to Dublin last year with what looked a second string squad and perhaps should have won. Openside Justin Tipuric captains them and was very impressive in the RDS. He is about the same age as Warburton, which has limited his chances at international level while Marty Holah had the Ospreys seven jersey nailed down for the last few years. The Ospreys pack looks pretty grizzled and will not give Leinster anything easy. Dan Biggar is proof of the quality of Wales’ outhalf factory as he is no slouch but couldn’t make Gatland’s RWC squad.
The bookies call this a scratch game. While Leinster’s backline looks full of running, they have little experience playing together. The Ospreys will probably get marginal calls from referee Peter Fitzgibbon as they are the home team and they have an experienced pack. Leinster’s Kiwis will both add some good touches around the park, the speed and quality of the ball they get receive will dictate the impact they have on the game. Scratch looks about right for this so no bet but I, with some bias, expect Leinster to win.