Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Leinster and Ospreys thirsty for Magners magic

There's an adage in sport that the table never lies.

That is a maxim to which fresh credence has been added by virtue of events in this season’s Magners League, for following the regular 18 rounds of action, fittingly those who finished first and second have progressed to the final and will go head to head tomorrow.

In the semi-finals, Leinster beat fourth-placed Munster, while Magners League runners-up Ospreys saw off Glasgow Warriors who finished third. The new format has been vindicated; first versus second in the final with the former at home. It could not have been better scripted.

Whatever the outcome of the inaugural Magners League Grand Final, history will be made, for both Leinster and Ospreys are two-times winners of the Magners title in its previous guises.

Three titles, however, is untrodden territory.

Given the form the protagonists have shown en route it has the makings of a thriller.

Ospreys have amassed 404 points in all competitions, thanks in no small measure to the boot of Dan Biggar who has scored 291 in 25 matches.

To that add the try-scoring prowess of Ireland’s Tommy Bowe who can do no wrong at the moment.

Of course, with 38 Magners League tries to his credit — seven of them scored in this season’s series — Ireland’s wing wizard is the record-holder. And nothing would give him more pleasure than to register another touchdown or two in Dublin against opponents who include so many of his Irish international pals.

That won’t be easy; Leinster’s defence is outstanding.

That said, with 37 tries in their ‘for’ column, Ospreys know where the line is and how to cross it.

But despite the quality of Biggar, Bowe, Shane Williams, James Hook, Mike Phillips et al, the Welsh are underdogs.

Leinster have beaten them in each of their last six meetings, the most recent occasion being April 20 at the RDS where the hosts won 20-16. That completed a 2009/10 double, Leinster having won their September meeting at Liberty Stadium 18-11.

Once again the RDS is the venue and that makes Leinster favourites.

They last lost a Magners League match in Dublin back in September 2008 and their only home reversal this season was the 12-9 Heineken Cup defeat by London Irish in early October.

There is also the not so small matter of goal-kicking fly-half Jonathan Sexton boasting a 75.93 per cent success rate off the tee, full-back Rob Kearney on fire having notched up five tries in eight Magners League outings, No 8 Jamie Heaslip in the form of his life and prop Stan Wright able to play by virtue of being cleared by an all-Ulster Disciplinary Panel after being cited for a punch thrown against Munster’s Alan Quinlan in the Irish rivals’ play-off semi-final.

Having failed in their bid to retain the Heineken Cup, this is the hosts’ last chance to finish the season with more of the silverware to which they have become accustomed.

But star-studded Ospreys are equally motivated, a point underlined by coach Sean Holley who said: “We're just pleased to be there in the first instance. But now we are there, clearly we want to come away with some silverware. I think it will define our season.”

With Leinster legends Malcolm O’Kelly, Girvan Dempsey and Bernard Jackman retiring and South African prop CJ van der Linde and scrum-half Chris Keane moving on, their colleagues will aim to make their last match a happy occasion.

It is also Michael Cheika’s final game in charge before departing for Stade Francais. That being the case the players with whom he has enjoyed so many good times in the past five years will be keen to give their coach a memorable leaving present.

Ultra-professional Cheika’s no-nonsense view? “We’ll have plenty of time to say goodbye afterwards; this is about winning a game.”