Munster are hoping to make the most of their first home GUINNESS PRO12 semi-final since 2011, as they welcome the Ospreys to Thomond Park on Saturday for what is sure to be a titanic tussle.
GUINNESS PRO12 SEMI-FINAL: Saturday, May 23
MUNSTER (2nd) v OSPREYS (3rd), Thomond Park, 2.30pm (live Sky Sports 1 HD/TG4/S4C/RTÉ Radio 1)
Team News: Munster head coach Anthony Foley has named his team for Saturday’s GUINNESS PRO12 semi-final against the Ospreys at Thomond Park, with returning captain Peter O’Mahony and winger Simon Zebo both fit to start.
O’Mahony and Zebo have successfully rehabbed their respective hip and back complaints to take their places in a side that sees four personnel changes to the one that defeated the Newport Gwent Dragons in Cork last weekend.
Dave Kilcoyne and Stephen Archer both return to join Eusebio Guinazu in the front row, while O’Mahony’s inclusion at blindside flanker sees Donnacha Ryan revert to the second row to partner Paul O’Connell. Openside Paddy Butler and number 8 CJ Stander complete the back row trio.
Last weekend’s man-of-the-match, Conor Murray, continues at half back alongside Ian Keatley, and there is no change in the centre where Denis Hurley and Andrew Smith link up once again. The final change sees Zebo rejoin Keith Earls and Felix Jones in the back-three.
From the bench, Duncan Casey could make his return to action after recovering from a back injury, while BJ Botha draws ever closer to the century mark. The experienced South African prop make his 99th appearance for the province this weekend.
Almost 15,000 fans have already purchased tickets to cheer on Munster in Limerick on Saturday afternoon. Tickets from just €;20 for adults and great value family terrace packs from just €;40 are available to purchase online here, from the Munster Rugby Ticket Offices at Irish Independent Park and Thomond Park, or by calling 0818 719 300.
Tickets will also be available at the ground on matchday – from 9am at the Mobile Ticket Unit in the Fan Zone Plaza, and from 12.30pm at the West Stand ticket booth.
There is also a group special offer of 20 junior tickets & 5 adult tickets for just €;100. Should your local youth groups, club or school, etc. be interested in availing of this offer, please contact the Munster Rugby Ticket Office on 061-421103 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. These tickets are subject to availability, so do not delay! They are located in the terraces at Thomond Park.
Meanwhile, Wales and Lions flanker Dan Lydiate has been preferred to James King in the Ospreys team selected for this weekend’s play-off tie in Limerick.
Lydiate will make his sixth PRO12 start for the Ospreys since his return home to Wales from Racing Metro 92. He joins Justin Tipuric and in-form number 8 Dan Baker in the visitors’ back row.
The only other change from the 24-20 win at Connacht sees Canadian international Jeff Hassler starting on the right wing in place of Hanno Dirksen. Full-back Dan Evans, a former Newport Gwent Dragon, will make his 100th PRO12 appearance.
MUNSTER: Felix Jones; Keith Earls, Andrew Smith, Denis Hurley, Simon Zebo; Ian Keatley, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Eusebio Guinazu, Stephen Archer, Donnacha Ryan, Paul O’Connell, Peter O’Mahony (capt), Paddy Butler, CJ Stander.
Replacements: Duncan Casey, John Ryan, BJ Botha, Billy Holland, Jack O’Donoghue, Duncan Williams, JJ Hanrahan, Ronan O’Mahony.
OSPREYS: Dan Evans; Jeff Hassler, Ben John, Josh Matavesi, Eli Walker; Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb; Nicky Smith, Scott Baldwin, Dmitri Arhip, Tyler Ardron, Alun Wyn Jones (capt), Dan Lydiate, Justin Tipuric, Dan Baker.
Replacements: Sam Parry, Marc Thomas, Aaron Jarvis, Rory Thornton, James King, Tom Habberfield, Sam Davies, Jonathan Spratt.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Leighton Hodges, Ian Davies (both Wales)
Television Match Official: Gareth Simmonds (Wales)
Pre-Match Quotes: Felix Jones (Munster) – “It’s great to be in the play-offs and to be playing at Thomond Park. Things are very tight and as we saw last weekend there could have been any number of permutations as to who would bag a home semi-final. There’s no doubt that the Champions Cup qualification dimension has added a new focus to the league this season.
“It was a great day down in Cork, a dry ball and a hard pitch set the game up for a lot of good running rugby and although we scored 50 points we let in a number of scores that we weren’t too happy about, so during the review in recent days we’ve discussed both the positives and negatives. It’s important we correct the latter heading into this weekend.
“The Ospreys are an impressive side with talent right across the pitch, including some world class Welsh internationals. They’re a proven side who have already beaten us twice this season and are themselves unlucky not to have a home semi-final, it could very easily have been us travelling over there this weekend. Things will be very tight again at Thomond Park.
“To ship a defeat (19-14 to the Ospreys) so early in the season was a tough one to take but that is testament to how good a side Ospreys are. There were no complaints that day, they turned up and were the deserved victors.
“We have grown since then and we get another chance at them this weekend, so it’s important that we turn up and put in the performance that we’re capable of.”
Steve Tandy (Ospreys) – “What’s gone earlier in the season has gone. We won’t be reading too much into the two wins against Munster, and you’d expect that would be the same for them. It’s all about Saturday.
“Our prep has been good this week. It’s been important to keep the routine the same as normal, to keep the same habits, the fact that it is a semi-final makes no difference in how we approach the game. We have to be consistent in how we do things, ensure that we follow the same practices and habits that have got us to this point. To that end it’s a good mental test of a young group and how they deal with the different pressures of the week.
“There’s no doubt that this young squad has punched above its weight this season, and it’s really exciting to think that this group is still maturing. At 29, Alun Wyn is the only player above 27 in the squad, and the average age in the starters is 24. We have a bright future in front of us.
“This team is only going to get better if they keep working hard, focusing on what they have to and striving for excellence. This weekend is about the here and now though, and what will be a really tough afternoon against a really good Munster side that will be most people’s favourites with home advantage.
“A lot has been written this week about no away team ever having won a semi-final. It’s a good statistic, but that’s all it is, a number. We have to back ourselves to go there, enjoy the occasion, and focus on the factors we can control if we are going to be the first.”
Top Scorers – 2014/15 GUINNESS PRO12: Munster – Points: Ian Keatley 170; Tries: CJ Stander 9; Ospreys – Points: Dan Biggar 168; Tries: Rhys Webb 11
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Saturday, September 29, 2012 – Ospreys 30 Munster 15, Liberty Stadium
Saturday, March 2, 2013 – Munster 13 Ospreys 13, Thomond Park
Saturday, November 2, 2013 – Munster 12 Ospreys 6, Thomond Park
Sunday, February 23, 2014 – Ospreys 11 Munster 25, Liberty Stadium
Saturday, September 27, 2014 – Munster 14 Ospreys 19, Thomond Park
Saturday, March 7, 2015 – Ospreys 26 Munster 12, Liberty Stadium
– Munster are unbeaten in their last five GUINNESS PRO12 matches, a run which has seen them now reach the play-off stage in five of the last six seasons, although none of those encounters have been played at Thomond Park since 2011
– The Munstermen have won only one of their last nine semi-finals in all competitions since 2008: 18-11 over the Ospreys in Limerick in the PRO12 in May 2011
– The Ospreys have won their last six PRO12 games since drawing 9-all at home to Leinster on February 27
– The Welshmen have won their last three away league games, and have never won four in a row on the road in the history of the competition
– This is the Ospreys’ first appearance in the play-offs since 2012 with their two most recent appearances at this stage both being against Munster, losing in Limerick in 2011 but exacting revenge at Liberty Stadium a year later
– The Ospreys achieved the PRO12 double over Munster during the regular season, being only one of two sides to have defeated Munster away this season. The other was Edinburgh in round 1
– The Ospreys’ last four visits to Thomond Park have resulted in two victories, one draw and just one defeat