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A wet Sunday in Swansea is where Leinster's students graduate

Nine of the Leinster squad who play Ospreys today have won fewer than 20 caps but Rory O’Loughlin believes they can all become top players.

Harry Byrne is developing with Sexton away on international duty.
Harry Byrne is developing with Sexton away on international duty.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

APRIL 27, 2019 isn’t likely to be pencilled into too many diaries, just one of those Friday nights that happened to be sandwiched in between the European Champions Cup semi-final and final.

A Pro14 weekend where Leinster lost. No one raised an eyebrow. And why should they have? They’d Saracens to look forward to in a European final, their passage to the Pro14 semis also secure. Yet this humdrum Friday was the last time Leinster lost in this competition, 19 months and 23 games ago.

It’s hard to see how that sequence of results will be interrupted by Ospreys this afternoon [KO 3pm, live on TG4 and Premier Sport];  given how the Welsh region just seem to be existing for the sake of it right now whereas Leinster remain committed to this idea of continually evolving.

For many rugby fans, these sort of games just pass people by, yet they’re worth keeping an eye on, for it was here where Sexton, Heaslip, O’Brien and more recently van der Flier, Furlong, Doris and Keegan learned their trade. These days it is Harry Byrne, the talented young out half, Tommy O’Brien and Michael Milne who are seeking to graduate from wet Sundays in Swansea to the brighter lights of the Champions Cup.

This is just Byrne’s 13th appearance for his province. You wouldn’t think it by the way he moves and the way he talks. “It is always the case with young lads that when you make the step up to pro rugby, you have to learn how to manage the game, realise there are moments when you have to slow it down, play field position,” says Rory O’Loughlin, his Leinster team mate.

“Now look, Harry is not short of confidence anyway but as he is the one making big calls, it’s just so important that he is getting this exposure and learning. You can’t know enough.”

rory-oloughlin O'Loughlin is relieved to be injury free again. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Lately, though, O’Loughlin has had to put up with a few new discoveries that he could  have done without, a shoulder injury suffered around this time last year interrupting the steady progress he was making before this thing called a global pandemic struck.

And so lockdown extended his period of inactivity. He got back to play against Ulster – ‘and was blowing by the 80th minute’ – and then picked up a niggly calf injury. So last weekend against Glasgow was comeback No2.

“Hopefully I can get a run of games now. That was my longest period out and if I’m honest it was a shock to the system. It does take a few games to get back to full match fitness but I’m getting there.”

As are Cullen’s Cubs. The Lancaster/Leo axis have never shied away from throwing youngsters into the mix, particularly when the big cats are away on international duty. The fact the side have continued to win tells you everything you need to know about their quality.

“The thing that really pleased us about last week’s win in Glasgow was the fact that they came right back at us in the second half. They like to keep the tempo high but Luke (McGrath) kept us calm and for a young group, to get a win, to front up physically, was really satisfying.”

Less rewarding is the way he has to look at international games these days, more as an analyst than as a fan, studying the tactical trends of the French, the way they counter-attack when teams kick to them, the different little patterns of play which may some day be replicated when O’Loughlin is on the field. “You used to get caught up in the emotion of big games; now as a player, you are looking to educate yourself. Stu (Lancaster) puts that challenge to us. But look, you have to enjoy the game, too.”

As far as the Ospreys are concerned, it is hard enough to enjoy life right now. Last time out they lost 23-17 defeat to Zebre and head coach Toby Booth has confirmed that a further three players will miss today’s match.

Wales flanker Dan Lydiate leads the side for the third time this season in a back-row that features Will Griffiths, who makes his first PRO14 start for the region.

An unchanged front five sees Rhodri Jones, Dewi Lake and Ma’afu Fia line up in the front-row and Adam Beard and Bradley Davies in the second.

In the backs, Cai Evans comes into the starting line-up alongside the unchanged duo of Luke Morgan and Mat Protheroe on the wings.

Joe Hawkins and Scott Williams maintain the centre partnership with Reuben Morgan-Williams and Josh Thomas wearing the nine and ten jerseys once again.

Out-half Stephen Myler and centres Kieran Williams and Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler are again missing from the matchday 23 after not featuring in the squad that travelled to Italy.

“I am less worried about Leinster and where they are in their journey as a team, everyone knows how good they are, they are the market leaders in the Pro14,” said Booth.

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“Everyone knows they are there to aspire to but we can’t control them and I am more interested in what we do and how we respond from last week.

“The character side of our team I am really proud of -the ability to keep fighting until the bitter end. We we came up short -only just -last Monday, but if we have good character, a good culture and consistent performances, you get closer to teams like Leinster.

“We are looking forward to the challenge and it’s another opportunity to see where we are.” 

LEINSTER TEAM (with caps in brackets)

15. Jimmy O’Brien (21)
14. Cian Kelleher (16)
13. Rory O’Loughlin (72)
12. Tommy O’Brien (6)
11. Dave Kearney (151)
10. Harry Byrne (13)
9. Luke McGrath (131)

1. Michael Milne (11)
2. James Tracy (113)
3. Michael Bent (144)
4. Ross Molony (99)
5. Scott Fardy (64)
6. Josh Murphy (35)
7. Scott Penny (16)
8. Rhys Ruddock (177) — captain

Replacements

16. Dan Sheehan (2)
17. Peter Dooley (78)
18. Ciarán Parker (1)
19. Devin Toner (251)
20. Dan Leavy (65)
21. Hugh O’Sullivan (22)
22. David Hawkshaw (1)
23. Liam Turner (1).

Ospreys: Cai Evans; Mat Protheroe, Scott Williams, Joe Hawkins, Luke Morgan; Josh Thomas, Reuben Morgan-Williams; Rhodri Jones, Dewi Lake, Ma’afu Fia, Adam Beard, Bradley Davies, Will Griffiths, Dan Lydiate capt, Gareth Evans.

Reps: Ifan Phillips, Gareth Thomas, Tom Botha, Rhys Davies, Olly Cracknell, Shaun Venter, Callum Carson, Hanno Dirksen.

About the author:

Garry Doyle

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