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Dublin: 12 °C Tuesday 7 July, 2020
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Leinster looking for 20th consecutive win as Ospreys bring them to the Gnoll

Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster’s team can win games in different ways.

WIN THIS EVENING in Neath [KO 7.35pm, eir sport/TG4] and Leinster’s winning streak in all competitions will extend to 20 games.

It’s 23 wins in a row if one opts to include the trio of friendly fixtures Leinster played before this season kicked off proper.

Even in the Celtic Cup at the beginning of this season, Leinster A won all eight of their games to claim the trophy for the second season running.

The last time Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster’s senior side lost a game of any kind was on 11 May last year when Saracens deservedly won the Champions Cup final in Newcastle.

hugo-keenan-jimmy-obrien-rowan-osborne-ciaran-frawley-celebrate-at-the-full-time-whistle Leinster are on a remarkable run of wins. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

It’s almost 41 weeks since Leinster had to deal with that bitter losing feeling. There has been a summer break in the middle of that timeline, of course, but this winning run is quite remarkable.

As Leinster swept the Cheetahs aside amidst Storm Dennis at the RDS last weekend, combining battling, physical rugby with glimpses of classy handling and decision-making in their build-up attack, it never looked like being a contest.

When Leinster’s intelligent attack or their ferociously effective maul had brought them within striking range, their consistently effective pick-and-go tactics helped them over the line in several instances. It was an impressive combination of beauty and brawn.

Last weekend’s game pointed to how Leinster have developed different ways of winning in recent seasons, something Stuart Lancaster referenced in a riveting interview with Off the Ball last week.

“In my first year here, we talked about what Leinster rugby meant,” said Lancaster. “You go back through the great Leinster performances and the ones I saw when I was in England, the Northampton games stick in my mind…

“So you’ve got this sort of Leinster rugby and we played that brand in my first year but yet we lose against Scarlets and Clermont in two semi-finals [in 2017]. The Scarlets game was the one that really stuck in my mind but also the one that helped us evolve more so.

“Because they had a player sent off early in the game and we were playing against 14. On any given day, Leinster playing against 14 would win, and we lost. They pretty much stacked the frontline [of defence], they only had one in the backfield and we weren’t as cohesive as we needed to be and sometimes it happens with how the referee refs the breakdown, the weather, whatever, but you’ve still got to find a way to win.

“We coined this phrase ‘pressure rugby.’ So kick the corners, force them to kick out, build the pressure, score a different way. And we didn’t do that. 

ronan-kelleher-celebrates-his-try-with-teammates The Cheetahs had no answer for Leinster's class last weekend. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“We said we need to be adaptable to play Leinster rugby or play pressure rugby. And sometimes we need to do it in the same game.

“The sexy bit is obviously the free-flowing, offloading, multi-phase rugby, but you’d be lying to say that’s the only way we score.”

Leinster’s latest challenge is an Ospreys team buoyed by their victory over Ulster last weekend, just their second Pro14 win in what has been a miserable season so far.

The Welshmen will hope to be further lifted by bringing this game to The Gnoll in Neath, rather than their home Liberty Stadium in Swansea. The Gnoll is the home of Neath RFC, the oldest club in Wales and one of the real powers in the Welsh game before regional rugby.

Cullen and Lancaster have opted for eight changes and one positional switch to their starting XV for this evening, continuing their policy of rotating players.

The exciting 20-year-old flanker Scott Penny will hope to make his presence felt amidst the ridiculous level of back row competition in the province – Jack Conan has just returned to training – while the far more experienced Rhys Ruddock makes a shift to number eight.

With a forecast for some rain today, the visitors may need to rely on their pressure rugby against the Ospreys but there is always the threat of the Leinster way breaking out too. 

It’s difficult to see beyond Leinster making it 20 wins in a row. 

Ospreys:

15. Cai Evans
14. Hanno Dirksen
13. Owen Watkin
12. Kieran Williams
11. Luke Morgan
10. Luke Price
9. Aled Davies 
1.Nicky Smith  
2. Scott Otten
3. Simon Gardiner 
4. Adam Beard
5. Bradley Davies 
6. Dan Lydiate (captain)
7. Olly Cracknell
8. Dan Baker 

Replacements:

16. Sam Parry 
17. Gareth Thomas
18. Gheorghe Gajion 
19. Lloyd Ashley
20. Sam Cross 
21. Shaun Venter 
22. Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler
23. James Hook 

Leinster:

15. Hugo Keenan
14. Cian Kelleher
13. Jimmy O’Brien
12. Conor O’Brien
11. James Lowe
10. Ciarán Frawley
9. Jamison Gibson-Park

1. Peter Dooley
2. James Tracy
3. Michael Bent 
4. Ross Molony 
5. Scott Fardy (captain)
6. Josh Murphy
7. Scott Penny 
8. Rhys Ruddock

Replacements:

16. Seán Cronin 
17. Michael Milne
18. Jack Aungier 
19. Jack Dunne 
20. Ryan Baird 
21. Rowan Osborne 
22. Harry Byrne 
23. Tommy O’Brien 

Referee: Stuart Berry [South Africa].

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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