It's always nice to have a trick up your sleeve for when you really need it, and Leinster Rugby officials could have been forgiven for wondering how they were going to sell out tonight's Rabodirect Pro 12 fixture against the Ospreys a few weeks ago. After all Leinster's place in the knockout stages of the competition is all but assured, indeed home advantage is nearly a formality now too, while sandwiched between the relative high points of a Six Nations campaign and a home Heineken Cup quarter final against the Cardiff Blues, this match made little or no appeal.
But then, you spring Brad Thorn and of course a returning Brian O'Driscoll and voila - instant sell out. The general health of rugby in Ireland is rarely called into question but crowds of nearly 20,000 at a game like this certainly prove that in the east of the country, the game is very, very strong.
More importantly for us however, is whether or not Leinster will cover the spread tonight against an Ospreys team that are under a lot of pressure after losing their last two league fixtures. It's not quite last chance saloon for the Welsh side, but another defeat tonight could leave them with little or no wiggle room in the run in as they try to stay alive in the only competition still on offer to them. Warren Gatland pleaded with the Ospreys management to give his Grand Slam winning players a rest this week, but Justin Tipuric, Alun Wyn Jones, Ryan Jones, Paul James and Ashley Beck all line out in the starting fifteen, while Ian Evans, Adam Jones, Ryan Bevington, and Rhys Webb are on the bench. They simply couldn't afford to follow Gatland's wishes, even if they wanted to.
Even so, it's still a very young Ospreys back line and that combination of inexperience and tiredness makes it difficult to trust the visitors in this fixture. Leinster too had a lot of players involved in the Six Nations campaign but they've chosen to leave most of those individuals on the bench - which is a lot easier when Thorn and O'Driscoll will bring to 48 the total number of players who have lined out for Leinster in this competition this season. Depth is simply not an issue.
The betting for this game sees most bookmakers offering the Ospreys with either a nine or a ten point head start on their handicap betting lines. Ladbrokes however are going after the home side, offering 10/11 about Leinster minus eight. That's a brave statement in a game like this, with Leinster on the back of twenty consecutive wins in a row. The Ospreys should make the playoffs, but they won't do it on the back of winning here. Take the minus eight.
Leinster: 15 Isa Nacewa, 14 David Kearney, 13 Brian O'Driscoll, 12 Fergus McFadden, 11 Luke Fitzgerald, 10 Ian Madigan, 9 Isaac Boss, 8 Leo Auva'a, 7 Dominic Ryan, 6 Rhys Ruddock, 5 Brad Thorn, 4 Leo Cullen (c), 3 Nathan White, 2 Richardt Strauss, 1 Heinke van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Jamie Hagan, 19 Damian Browne, 20 Kevin McLaughlin, 21 John Cooney, 22 Eoin O'Malley, 23 Fionn Carr.
Ospreys: 15 Richard Fussell, 14 Hanno Dirksen, 13 Andrew Bishop, 12 Ashley Beck, 11 Eli Walker, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Kahn Fotuali'i, 8 George Stowers, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Tom Smith, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (c), 4 Ryan Jones, 3 Aaron Jarvis, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Paul James.
Replacements: 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Ryan Bevington, 18 Adam Jones, 19 Ian Evans, 20 James King, 21 Rhys Webb, 22 Matthew Morgan, 23 Tom Isaacs.