Leinster will be going all out for a special trophy double when they compete in the RaboDirect PRO12 final with the Ospreys.
Leinster will be going all out for a special trophy double when they compete in the RaboDirect PRO12 final with the Ospreys on Sunday.
Fresh from the Heineken Cup win, Joe Schmidt's side have one more task ahead of them against a team that has had an extra week to prepare.
A 42-14 success in a European final cannot go unnoticed and it is a measure of how highly they are now rated that the scoreline hasn't received huge praise. Ulster were well beaten in the end at Twickenham last weekend, and if Schmidt's outfit can replicate how they absorbed Ulster's best punches before going for the knockout, then the Ospreys could also find themselves floored.
Victory would see Leinster then become just the fifth side – and the first since London Wasps back in 2004 – to become European and domestic champions in the same term. This is also their third straight Celtic League final appearance.
What's been just as impressive from Leinster is that their only negative in any competition since September was 22-23 to the Ospreys in March. Now if that isn't the stuff of champions then I don't know what is for a province that for so long has lived in Munster's imposing shadow.
But let us refrain from falling in love with Leinster too much just yet before a ball has even been kicked as they face an Ospreys team that has momentum. Ever since ex-Osprey Steve Tandy stepped into the breach after Sean Holley and Scott Johnson left, a return of the enjoyment factor on the field of play for the in-form Swansea-based side has been apparent.
So much have the shackles been lifted that there is also now talk of Dan Biggar – once the golden boy of Welsh rugby – discovering his best form in an Ospreys jersey. This is great news for Warren Gatland and Rob Howley, particularly now that Stephen Jones has hung up his Test boots while Perpignan's James Hook has not firmly established himself at the recognised back-up to Rhys Priestland. What better stage could Biggar have asked for?
Biggar will run out alongside youngster Rhys Webb, who gets the nod over Samoan number nine Kahn Fotuali'i on Sunday, with Tandy explaining the pre-game mood in his squad.
“It's a huge game, a massive occasion for Ospreys Rugby, and everybody is really excited about Sunday,” he explained to the Ospreys' official website on Friday.
“Leinster are a great team. What they've achieved in Europe over the last four years speaks for itself, and the nature of their win against Ulster last weekend means that they'l be full of confidence. Playing at home in front of their own fans is another bonus for them and will make the task even more difficult for us.
“Previous games won't count for a thing on Sunday, it's all about the day and who handles the pressure the best.”
Meanwhile, Leo Cullen leads a Leinster team which includes thirteen Ireland internationals for the province's third meeting of the season against the Welsh region. Cullen partners Devin Toner in the second-row as former All Black international Brad Thorn is benched.
There are several changes to the pack with Heinke van der Merwe joining Ireland duo Sean Cronin and Mike Ross in the front-row. Number eight Jamie Heaslip forms an experienced back-row with Shane Jennings and Kevin McLaughlin, with Sean O'Brien (knee) ruled out.
Ones to watch:
For Leinster: Heineken Cup silverware in the bag, next pot to add to the cabinet is the RaboDirect PRO12 for medal magnet Brad Thorn, right? The first man in the history of the sport to claim a World Cup, Super Rugby title and a European Cup, Thorn is fast becoming one of the greats of the game. This week he is on the bench in Dublin, battling it out for the PRO12 title and few would bet against him coming on and getting his mitts on that one too?
For Ospreys: After promising so much in his early regional career, Dan Biggar fell somewhat off the international radar over the past few seasons. Maybe not for much longer. Biggar has been excellent of late for the Ospreys and was rewarded for that form with a place in Rob Howley's squad that is training ahead of their clash with the Baa-baas. There was never much doubt the skills were there and now it seems Biggar has the consistency.
Head-to-head: Sam Warburton's understudy, Justin Tipuric, was this week given a glowing reference by Kahn Fotuali'i that he has the ability to become as good as All Black Richie McCaw. He faces an old stager this week in Shane Jennings. That battle is one to savour while there is also set to be sparks between Adam Jones and Heinke van der Merwe.
Prediction: On one hand there is a possible Heineken Cup hangover whereas on the other, it seems nothing can stop Leinster from building their own legacy. Despite the Ospreys having demolished Munster in the semis, we just feel that Leinster will take it by 8!
Leinster: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Fergus McFadden, 13 Brian O'Driscoll, 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Isa Nacewa, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Eoin Reddan, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Shane Jennings, 6 Kevin McLaughlin, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Leo Cullen (c), 3 Mike Ross, 2 Sean Cronin, 1 Heinke van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Richardt Strauss, 17 Cian Healy/Jack McGrath, 18 Nathan White, 19 Brad Thorn, 20 Dominic Ryan, 21 John Cooney, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 David Kearney.
Ospreys: 15 Richard Fussell, 14 Hanno Dirksen, 13 Andrew Bishop, 12 Ashley Beck, 11 Shane Williams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Joe Bearman, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Ryan Jones, 5 Ian Evans, 4 Alun Wyn Jones (capt), 3 Adam Jones, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Paul James.
Replacements: 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Ryan Bevington, 18 Aaron Jarvis, 19 James King, 20 Tom Smith, 21 Kahn Fotuali'i, 22 Matthew Morgan, 23 Tom Isaacs.
Date: Sunday, May 27
Kick-off: 16:00 BST
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant referees: George Clancy (Ireland), Neil Paterson (Scotland)
Television match official: Giulio de Santis (Italy)
By Adam Kyriacou