Magners League: Three things to watch
Leinster’s dominance over a constantly improving Ulster side is likely to continue, while Munster should beware the last stand of the current Ospreys squad.
Leinster’s first choice XV not yet nailed down
The Leinster players and management will be loath to admit it, but they’ll know going into this evening’s meeting with Ulster that they have bigger fish to fry against Northampton next weekend.
With a Magners League/Heineken Cup double still on the cards, however, Joe Schmidt has spared no-one bar Shane Horgan (who has a minor knock), and a number of positions all over the pitch are still up for grabs ahead of the encounter in Cardiff on Saturday week.
Horgan’s absence gives Fergus McFadden yet another opportunity to impress and while Horgan is likely to return against the Saints, a good showing from McFadden tonight means that he could be shifted to the opposite wing in place of Luke Fitzgerald, who is in the throes of the worst form of his career at present.
At scrum half, Isaac Boss is given the nod ahead of Eoin Reddan and although he offers a powerful and more abrasive threat than Reddan at 9, the tactic of Boss replacing Reddan around the hour mark has worked well so far and is likely to be repeated in Cardiff.
While Fitzgerald and Reddan will probably survive, it seems likely that Kevin McLaughlin will miss out. McLaughlin’s ability in the lineout worked a treat against Leicester but not against Toulouse and if tonight’s selection is anything to go by, he is likely to be jettisoned for the final in favour of Shane Jennings, a key cog in Leinster’s ultra-efficient defence.
Munster should beware Ospreys’ last stand
Although the strength in the Ospreys’ squad hasn’t always translated to performances on the pitch, when their multi-talented group of players get it right, they can be devastating, something they displayed when beating Leinster on their own turf and capturing the Magners League title last year.
Talented Ospreys pair Lee Byrne and James Hook are off to France next season
That squad is about to be seriously weakened in the summer, however, with Welsh internationals Mike Phillips, Lee Byrne and James Hook about to depart to the sunnier climes and lucrative contracts on offer in France next season.
The Ospreys have tasted defeat at Thomond Park twice this season and could and probably should have won at least one of those encounters. While the need to make up for those defeats will provide motivation enough, Scott Johnson’s side will also be spurred on by the desire to show what they are capable of in the time they have left and sign off on a winning note before the rebuilding starts next season.
Ulster not quite there yet
Brian McLaughlin and Ulster should be given huge credit for the strides they’ve made this season, but a look at their line-up compared to Leinster’s this evening shows that they have some way to go yet before they can consistently mix it with the big boys.
While Ulster have given as good as they have got against opponents as respected as Biarritz and Northampton already this season, at both Ravenhill and the RDS Leinster have highlighted the gap that currently exists between the provinces.
An upset can’t be ruled out, but another lesson at the hands of the Blues is likely at the RDS. With New Zealanders Jared Payne and John Afoa among the signings already confirmed for next season, Ruan Pienaar set to stay and a mystery ‘sugar daddy’ apparently pumping funds into the province, Ulster could be a lot closer to the finished article in the next campaign.