Two of Celtic rugby’s heavyweights will collide at the Liberty Stadium on Friday as the table-topping Ospreys take on European champions Munster. The men in red had one of their worst outings for some time when they went down 37-11 to Ulster in Limerick last weekend and will be determined to bounce straight back, with team captain Paul O’Connell returning to the side.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Friday, January 9
OSPREYS v MUNSTER, Liberty Stadium, 7.05pm (live BBC Wales/Setanta Sports Ireland)
Team News: Ireland back rower Denis Leamy has recovered from a knee injury to take his place in the Munster team for Friday’s Magners League top of the table tussle with the Ospreys at the Liberty Stadium.
Paul O’Connell will lead a Munster side that includes the fit-again Denis Leamy and Tomas O’Leary for their mouth-watering meeting with the Ospreys.
Leamy is back at number 8 for what will be only his third appearance of an injury-disrupted season for Munster.
The Tipperary man played in the Thomond Park defeat to the All Blacks and then scored a try against the Scarlets before injurying his knee in that game at Parc y Scarlets.
However, missing from the extended Munster squad announced on Wednesday are Kieran Lewis, Keith Earls, Niall Ronan and Marcus Horan who are all suffering from a stomach bug, as is Tony Buckley.
Ronan O’Gara’s hamstring injury, which he sustained against Ulster last Saturday, has not cleared up in time to allow him to participate – but the Munster management remain hopeful that he will be fit in time for the forthcoming Heineken Cup game against Sale Sharks.
The absence of O’Gara, Jeremy Manning, Rua Tipoki and Lewis means bench duty for Garryowen clubman Conan Doyle and Development player Tom Gleeson, who helped Cork Constitution win the Munster Senior Cup last weekend.
Meanwhile, Wales winger Shane Williams is back in the Ospreys side after recovering from a shoulder injury.
Gavin Henson is a notable absentee due to the imminent arrival of his second child, while regular captain Ryan Jones, Adam Jones, Ireland winger Tommy Bowe and Ian Gough are missing as Ospreys coach Sean Holley rotates his squad.
Wales hooker Huw Bennett returns from injury to join former All Black Marty Holah and the fit-again Lyndon Bateman on the Welsh region’s replacements bench.
OSPREYS: Lee Byrne; Jonny Vaughton, Sonny Parker, Andrew Bishop, Shane Williams; James Hook, Mike Phillips; Paul James (capt), Richard Hibbard, Cai Griffiths, Alun Wyn Jones, Jonathan Thomas, Tom Smith, Steve Tandy, Filo Tiatia.
Replacements: Huw Bennett, Ryan Bevington, Lyndon Bateman, Marty Holah, Rhys Webb, Dan Biggar, Kristian Phillips.
MUNSTER: Denis Hurley; Doug Howlett, Barry Murphy, Lifeimi Mafi, Ian Dowling; Paul Warwick, Tomas O’Leary; Federico Pucciariello, Jerry Flannery, John Hayes, Donncha O’Callaghan, Paul O’Connell (capt), Alan Quinlan, David Wallace, Denis Leamy.
Replacements: Denis Fogarty, Timmy Ryan, Mick O’Driscoll, John O’Sullivan, Peter Stringer, Conan Doyle, Tom Gleeson.
Referee: Andy Macpherson (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: Tim Hayes, Huw David (both Wales)
Television Match Official: Nigel Whitehouse (Wales)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ospreys to win: 8/11; Draw: 20/1; Munster to win: 11/10
Say What: Shaun Payne (Munster) – “The Liberty Stadium is a really difficult place to come and get a result. The Ospreys are going very well in three competitions and when you have that sort of momentum it means the confidence really flows.
“I don’t believe the talk of a change in coach will be a distraction at all. If anything that sort of scenario can drive players on.
“But we won’t concern ourselves with happenings in their camp. We have to focus on our own game and how we want to play the game.
“What we need from ourselves is a good performance. We need to put in practice on the field (tonight) what we have been working on in training this week. I think we can do that and we will give a good account of ourselves.”
Sean Holley (Ospreys) – “Friday night is another big game and another big occasion that we are looking forward to. It is first v second in the Magners League, the European champions at the Liberty Stadium, and it doesn’t get any bigger than that.
“Munster’s pedigree speaks for itself and we are well aware of the threat that they will pose. Given their disappointing results over Christmas they will no doubt be looking to put the record straight.
“We have a good record against Munster, and we want to keep that record intact this weekend. It is about building on the momentum we have generated during recent weeks, improving in certain areas to take performance levels to where we want them to be.
“I’m sure that it’s going to be another great Liberty Stadium occasion and we’re looking forward to seeing a good crowd getting behind us as we know they can.”
Top Scorers: 2008/09 Magners League – Points: Ospreys: James Hook 74; Munster: Ronan O’Gara 44; Tries: Ospreys: James Hook, Nikki Walker 3 each; Munster: Doug Howlett 5
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Saturday, September 10, 2005 – Munster 37 Ospreys 10, Musgrave Park
Friday, May 5, 2006 – Ospreys 27 Munster 10, Liberty Stadium
Saturday, November 25, 2006 – Munster 25 Ospreys 20, Thomond Park
Saturday, April 7, 2007 – Ospreys 20 Munster 12, Liberty Stadium
Sunday, October 14, 2007 – Ospreys 16 Munster 3, Liberty Stadium
Saturday, April 19, 2008 – Munster 9 Ospreys 8, Musgrave Park
– The Ospreys have won back-to-back matches in the Magners League against fellow Welsh regions, the Scarlets and Cardiff Blues
– The Welshmen have won all seven of their home games in all competitions so far this season. The last Irish side to win at the Liberty Stadium was Leinster (26-19) in November 2007
– Munster have won just one of their last four games in all competitions – a 24-13 victory at home to Clermont Auvergne in the European Cup on December 13
– Munster have won their last five matches against Welsh opponents since Cardiff beat them 25-22 at the Arms Park on March 1, 2008
– The last eight encounters between the two teams have been won by the home side on the day. Munster’s only previous victory on Ospreys soil was a 20-18 success at the Gnoll in the European Cup on October 31, 2004