By Tadhg Peavoy
Without question the most intriguing PRO12 tie of the weekend is defending champions Leinster against Ospreys at the RDS.
Live television coverage of Leinster v Ospreys from 17:05 on Saturday 14 September on RTÉ Two and RTÉ.ie. (Ireland only).
Leinster head coach Matt O’Connor fields a strong side for the home clash with Dave Kearney (fullback), Gordon D’Arcy (first centre), Luke Fitzgerald (left wing) and Eoin Reddan (scrumhalf) forming a hugely experienced backline spine that would be the envy of most teams in the league.
Add in a pack that boasts captain Shane Jennings (openside flanker), Kevin McLaughlin (blindside flanker), Mike McCarthy (second row) and Richardt Strauss (hooker) alongside Mike Ross (tighthead prop) and you would immediately back this side to be in contention to win any European game.
But Ospreys also bring plenty to the party. Last year’s beaten semi-finalists won the clash between the sides at Liberty Stadium last season 19-10; that win was the only time Leinster have gone down to Welsh opposition in ten encounters, which goes to show the magnitude of the victory.
However, Leinster were far stronger in the return tie, winning 37-19 in Dublin to reinforce their strength when playing at home.
Dan Biggar had a superb season for Ospreys at outhalf last season and he will again pull the strings on Saturday.
His combination of kicking for territory and playing the ball out-of-hand is usually on the money and much of Ospreys’ rhythm comes from him.
In the centre, Ashley Beck and Andrew Bishop are two of the better – and more unsung - centres in the league and will fancy taking on an ageing D’Arcy and still not totally proven Brendan Macken.
At 15, Richard Fussell is solid defensively and comes into the line, to add attacking depth, often.
It’s a very attacking backline, ably supplied by quick ball from scrumhalf Tito Tebaldi. However, in the pack, Leinster may have the edge.
Ryan Bevington at loosehead prop is a fine player, while Ian Evans at lock adds experience, and Joe Bearman at number eight has massive strength and an attack-minded attitude.
But, as an eight, you would feel Leinster are a more complete group, both in terms of set-piece play, as well as at the breakdown and in the loose.
If that proves to be the case, the Irish side’s backline should be given enough opportunity to put scores on the board and move ahead in the first half and early part of the second period.
Ospreys have a strong bench, with Richard Hibbard (hooker), Duncan Jones (loosehead prop), Adam Jones (tighthead prop) and Matthew Morgan (outhalf) to come on.
But so do Leinster, with Sean Cronin (hooker), Rhys Ruddock (utility forward), Isaac Boss (scrumhalf) and Ian Madigan (utility back) all potential game-changers in more pivotal and wide-ranging positions than Ospreys’ options.
All that considered, Leinster should see this one home by eight in what promises to be a highly entertaining game to watch.