ISA NACEWA expects a huge backlash from Magners League front-runners The Ospreys at Liberty Stadium this evening (7.05pm).
The Welsh region is still in shock following a home defeat to Ulster on the opening day of the campaign, But Nacewa reckons shock turns automatically into threat, especially when a team is smarting from heavy criticism from its home supporters.
“No doubt,” he said, “The Ospreys will prove to be a stiff test coming, as it does, after losing our last game at home to Ulster. Like us, they have a proud record at home and I’m sure they’ll be determined to get back to winning ways, so we’ll need to be focused.”
Leinster coach Michael Cheika introduces Nathan Hines, Eoin Reddan and Gordon D’Arcy from the start and also puts his faith in a front-row partnership of Stan Wright, Cian Healy and John Fogarty.
The Heineken Cup champions may be coming off the back of a win – against Newport Gwent Dragons last week – but there is a lot of work to do as far as Cheika is concerned. Nacewa, however, hopes the away defeat to Llanelli was a blip and the rather lacklustre performance against the Dragons was a reaction to that.
“I’m definitely pleased with our overall form after the first two games. As a squad, we felt had we been a bit more clinical against the Scarlets in week one, then we could have won that game. Although the Dragons were tough opponents, we showed definite improvements last weekend in the RDS.”
Nacewa has also been Ospreys watching of late, saying: “We’ve seen a fair bit of the Ospreys in recent weeks and they’re extremely talented. This game will have a Super 14 feel with Jerry Collins, Filo Tiatia and Marty Holah playing. They’re three top-class performers, I’ve played against them in New Zealand. It will be a real battle up front.”
The Kiwi import kept a relatively low profile for Leinster last year until the business end of the season when he became a key player in the successful drive towards European success. Yet, he is impressed with the underage structure as much as the influence exerted by senior players.
He said: “Since joining Leinster I’ve been impressed with the Academy structures. The likes of Niall Morris and David Kearney have come into the first team and done well. I’ve been at teams before when young players have stayed at clubs for three or four years but never kick on. I feel we have the balance right, supplemented by experienced players like Nathan (Hines) and Berney (Shaun Berne) who have come into the set-up.”
That leads him to believe there is nothing guaranteed for him this season but he noted: “It’s healthy to have competition, there are three or four top-class players who can play full-back so that means that there’s no room to slip up. Everybody wants to have that starting number on their back.
“There was a bit of talk about the challenges facing us with three of the first four games being away from home. But we know the confidence that breeds from winning on the road. It helps morale, sets you up for the challenges ahead and, most importantly, it gets you up the Magners League table.”
Meanwhile, as Andrew Bishop makes his 100th appearance for the Welsh club, Lee Byrne is back for the first time since sustaining an ankle injury on the Lions tour of South Africa. A further boost is the availability of Lions centre Tommy Bowe, who lines out on the right wing tonight.
Scott Johnson, the Ospreys experienced director of coaching, is not about to panic despite a rather disappointing start to the season. “We have had a couple of disappointing results but the reality is we’re trying to change some things. We have to get better at doing what we want to do but It takes time to get things right when you’re trying to move in a different direction.
“We’re a work in progress. The reality is that we have only lost one game and we have a good idea of the shape of the team we want. We have to keep building week by week and managing the squad over what’s going to be a long season.”
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