Munster will put their Heineken Cup title on the line against the injury-hit Ospreys on Sunday, with the prize of a home semi-final tie driving Paul O’Connell and his men on.
HEINEKEN CUP QUARTER-FINAL: Saturday, April 11
MUNSTER v OSPREYS, Thomond Park Stadium, 1pm (live Sky Sports 1/HD1)
Team News: The Munster team for Sunday’s Heineken Cup quarter-final against the Ospreys shows just one change from the side that started against Leinster last weekend with Denis Leamy returning to the back row.
Leamy’s return to fitness from a shoulder injury means that Niall Ronan slips to the replacements bench. David Wallace also returns to his more familiar openside flanker role.
Speaking ahead of Sunday’s game, Munster captain Paul O’Connell said: “The Ospreys and ourselves, we know each other well and that will make it an epic battle.
“A lot of internationals on both sides know each other very well, internationally and from the Magners League year-in, year-out.
“Four years ago we were in the same group in the Heineken Cup.
“It probably won’t be a great game to watch because the more you know about a team the harder it is to break them down. It’ll be good for the purists I suppose.”
Meanwhile, with Wales full-back Lee Byrne ruled out of Sunday’s game due to a foot injury, Ireland Grand Slam hero Tommy Bowe will don the Ospreys number 15 jersey.
Bowe will face some of his Ireland team-mates as the Welsh region bid to make the semi-finals for the first time.
Ian Gough is back in the starting line-up at lock, while Jonny Vaughton has also been pencilled in to start on the right wing.
MUNSTER: Paul Warwick, Doug Howlett, Keith Earls, Lifeimi Mafi, Ian Dowling; Ronan O’Gara, Tomas O’Leary; Marcus Horan, Jerry Flannery, John Hayes, Donncha O’Callaghan, Paul O’Connell (capt), Alan Quinlan, David Wallace, Denis Leamy.
Replacements: Denis Fogarty, Tony Buckley, Mick O’Driscoll, Niall Ronan, Peter Stringer, Barry Murphy, Denis Hurley.
OSPREYS: Tommy Bowe; Jonny Vaughton, Sonny Parker, Andrew Bishop, Shane Williams; James Hook, Mike Phillips; Paul James, Huw Bennett, Adam Jones, Ian Gough, Alun Wyn Jones, Ryan Jones (capt), Marty Holah, Filo Tiatia.
Replacements: Richard Hibbard, Cai Griffiths, Filipo Levi, Andy Lloyd, Tom Smith, Jamie Nutbrown, Dan Biggar.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant Referees: Paul Dix, Robin Goodliffe (both England)
Television Match Official: Geoff Warren (England)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Munster to win: 1/4; Draw: 25/1; Ospreys to win: 14/5
Pre-Match Quotes: Tony McGahan (Munster) – “(The 1pm start) it’s not perfect from a preparation point of view. It involves a different routine for the players, but I suppose we’re lucky in that we have had a few of our games over the years played at the same time.
“To compensate for that, we’ve brought forward lots of our sessions to earlier in the day so that the players are used to getting up early, and I can’t imagine that it will be a deciding factor in what happens.
“It was good to get a hard, physical, game in (against Leinster). It probably helped being at home as well and I really don’t think we could have asked for anything more.
“The Ospreys are an excellent side, we recognise how difficult it is to get into the quarter-finals – history suggests it’s a very difficult thing to do.
“We certainly recognise the work that has gone on in that region to bring them to where they are today.
“I believe it will be a really tight game. We played over there this year, won 25-21, and it was tight all around the park.
“There is great individual attack available on both sides, but both teams are well organised in defence. I’d expect it to be a very close encounter, without doubt.”
Sean Holley (Ospreys) – “We certainly have a group of players with an appetite to go and prove that they can produce the goods on such a stage.
“Obviously Munster will have confidence and momentum – and will be favourites – but we have got the incentive of a home semi-final at the Millennium Stadium and the dream of making the final.
“The disappointment of the Six Nations and the disappointment that this whole squad has from going out at the quarter-final last season will bin the fact that Ireland won a Grand Slam.
“We are just concentrating on ourselves and I hope Ireland’s Grand Slam will put more pressure on them.
“We have the belief and confidence but I just have to look at our players to know we’ve got enough. When the draw was made for the quarter-finals, my guess would have been that no one would have wanted to face us.
“We have to take confidence from that and we know what is at stake.”
Heineken Cup Top Scorers – Current Season: Munster: Tries: Barry Murphy, David Wallace 3 each; Points: Ronan O’Gara 63; Ospreys: Tries: Tommy Bowe 4; Points: James Hook 50
Current Form – Munster – (Magners League): Won 20-15 away to Edinburgh; Won 50-6 at home to the Newport Gwent Dragons; Won 28-20 at home to the Cardiff Blues; Won 18-0 away to Leinster; Won 25-17 at home to Glasgow Warriors; (Heineken Cup): Won 19-17 at home to Montauban; Won 24-16 away to Sale Sharks; (Magners League): Lost 22-6 away to Ulster; (Friendly): Lost 18-16 at home to New Zealand; (Magners League): Won 18-16 away to the Scarlets; (Heineken Cup): Lost 25-19 away to Clermont Auvergne; Won 23-13 at home to Clermont Auvergne; (Magners League): Lost 12-6 away to Connacht; Lost 37-11 at home to Ulster; Won 25-21 away to Ospreys; (Heineken Cup): Won 37-14 at home to Sale Sharks; Won 39-13 away to Montauban; (Magners League): Won 28-14 at home to Edinburgh; Won 20-9 away to the Newport Gwent Dragons; Won 26-13 away to Glasgow Warriors; Won 22-5 at home to Leinster
Ospreys – (Magners League): Won 16-3 away to Connacht; Won 32-10 at home to the Cardiff Blues; Won 21-18 away to Glasgow Warriors; Lost 19-13 away to Leinster; Won 43-0 at home to Ulster; (EDF Energy Cup): Won 24-23 at home to Harlequins; (Heineken Cup): Lost 12-6 away to Leicester Tigers; Won 15-9 at home to Perpignan; (EDF Energy Cup): Won 37-22 at home to Worcester Warriors; Lost 23-19 away to London Irish; (Magners League): Lost 32-16 away to Edinburgh; (Heineken Cup): Won 68-8 at home to Benetton Treviso; Won 36-16 away to Benetton Treviso; (Magners League): Lost 30-24 away to the Newport Gwent Dragons; Won 20-6 at home to the Scarlets; Won 16-12 away to the Cardiff Blues; Lost 25-21 at home to Munster; (Heineken Cup): Lost 17-15 away to Perpignan; Won 15-9 at home to Leicester Tigers; (Magners League): Won 22-10 at home to Connacht; Lost 13-8 at home to the Ospreys; (EDF Energy Cup semi-final): Lost 17-0 to Gloucester (neutral); (Magners League): Won 16-13 away to Ulster
Previous European Meetings: 2
Saturday, January 8, 2005 – Pool 4 – Munster 20 Ospreys 10, Thomond Park
Sunday, October 31, 2004 – Pool 4 – Ospreys 18 Munster 20, The Gnoll
Heineken Cup Records:
2006/07: Reached the quarter-finals
2004/05: Reached the quarter-finals
2003/04: Reached the semi-finals
2002/03: Reached the semi-finals
2000/01: Reached the semi-finals
1998/99: Reached the quarter-finals
1997/98: Failed to qualify from Pool D
1996/97: Failed to qualify from Pool D
1995/96: Failed to qualify from Pool D
2007/08: Reached the quarter-finals
2006/07: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
2005/06: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
2004/05: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2003/04: Failed to qualify from Pool 2
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Munster to win by 6-10 points