The pregame notes ahead of this fixture was that yLeinster’s established players were under pressure to secure their starting lineup berths after some keynote cameos from the likes of Carbery. It was a scenario which must have being music to the ears of Leinster head coach Leo Cullen and his international players produced a storming three quarters of rugby to beat a gallant but ultimately out-gunned Ospreys outfit 31-19 at the RDS.
There were several pleasing aspects for Leinster during this performance. The Leinster front-row was in dominant mood from the opening exchanges. Cian Healy was prominent in set piece but his work rate in the breakdown and fringes caught the eye resulting turnover ball which was a key theme of Leinster’s game in the opening period. A display full of work rate, endeavor and fast defensive and attacking lines were the hallmarks and Ospreys who typically are so efficient in the breakdown area found it extremely hard to adapt.
Discipline for the Ospreys was a key factor in the first half; too many penalties conceded with players in offside positions, killing ball and taking players out giving Leinster opportunites to launch attacks deep into Ospreys territory. Sexton’s kicking from hand was superb and with the elements at his back, Leinster tries were not far away and so it proved after the Ospreys were reduced to fourteen players midway through the half.
The man of the match was back row Josh Van der Flier whose athleticism from close range yielded the first try of the contest. A try which saw Leinster patient in their phrases, stretching their visitors from left to right and with the pack taking the ball to commit players from the defensive fringes. Van der Flier still had plenty to do but his stretch and accuracy in the touchdown were impressive.
Sexton soon got on the act as Ospreys’ struggled in the sin bin period and a penalty try was soon rewarded after the Leinster pack were rumbling over for another try. 24-0 at the break and the contest was as good as over. Leinster’s work rate in defense with some hard crunching hits typified by Nacewa who smashed Hasler when a try was on spoke volumes.
Leinster’s game management was impressive in the first period and Ospreys simply had no answer to the tempo, quick distribution of Luke McGrath and tireless running from three quarters of Ringrose and Reid whose partnership is improving with each passing week.
The high levels of performance for Leinster continued into the third quarter and their fourth try was probably their best try of the night. Several big game line gains from Leinster notably from the likes of Sean Cronin whose work rate was immense throughout setup the platform for Sexton to orchestrate line runners.
Van der Flier provided an excellent running line to unlock the Ospreys rearguard to break the first tackle and run unopposed for the bonus point. Van der Flier provides all the attributes required in a back row seven; skills, pace to compete at the breakdown and of course high tackle count.
Leo Cullen has a difficult decision to drop anyone from the back row after tonight’s performance. Heaslip was typical abrasive in ball carrying, immense tackle count and work rate. Murphy and Van der Flier provided breakdown dominance and the two try cameo from Leinster’s seven will throw the gauntlet to the likes of Sean O’Brien when he returns to first team action.
Ospreys who have started the season with three league wins arouse from their slumber with an encouraging last quarter scoring three tries which perhaps exploited Leinster’s outside defense weak points. Johns, Howells and King crossed over after retaining possession and sucking Leinster’s defense inside.
It is an area of play which Stuart Lancaster will go to review and address. The last quarter for Leinster saw Sexton sin binned due to repeated Leinster penalty concession and with the likes of Montpelier to come in the next couple of weeks, Leinster need to tighten up despite the influx of replacements on the pitch given as an excuse for the lapses.
A contest where Leinster produced a statement of intent to regain their Pro 12 crown and one where Ospreys will look to lick their wounds and try to bounce back next weekend. Ospreys’ scrum-half Rhys Webb will rarely have such an indifferent performance than tonight, distribution was off and when presented with a try knocked on. It was one of those nights.
For Leinster, encouraging signs ahead of the start of the European Cup campaign. Cullen has a squad who are pushing each other in training and it is ultimately translating to wins on match-day. Pro 12 league, you have being warned.