The Sunday roast will be put on hold as Pool 3 leaders Munster try to overcome the Ospreys at Thomond Park and take a step closer to qualifying for their 13th successive Heineken Cup quarter-final.
HEINEKEN CUP: POOL 3: Sunday, December 12
MUNSTER (1st) v OSPREYS (2nd), Thomond Park, 1pm (live Sky Sports 2/HD2)
Team News: Munster head coach Tony McGahan has made five personnel changes to his team for Sunday’s Heineken Cup Pool 3 showdown with the Ospreys at Thomond Park.
From the side that started last weekend’s 16-9 Magners League victory over the Cardiff Blues, there are three changes in the backs and two in the forwards.
Paul Warwick and Doug Howlett return at full-back and on the right wing respectively, with Lifeimi Mafi and Denis Hurley making way and Johne Murphy switching to the left wing.
Tomas O’Leary gets the nod over Peter Stringer at scrum half, while James Coughlan and David Wallace take over from Alan Quinlan and Niall Ronan in the back row. The front five is unchanged.
Quinlan, who could take his Munster caps record to 206 matches, is joined on the replacements bench by the province’s fit-again captain Paul O’Connell, who is poised for his first involvement in this season’s Heineken Cup.
The Thomond Park gates will open at 11am for Sunday’s sold-out clash, which is Munster’s second game against the Ospreys in recent months. Back in September, they beat the Welsh side 22-10 at the same Limerick venue in the Magners League.
Previewing this weekend’s European encounter, O’Connell said: “It would be brilliant to get back involved in Heineken Cup action, I haven’t been involved in Europe since last January.
“But it’s also important that I’m patient. We have an incredible number of high class second rows in the squad.
“There’s massive strength in depth in that position and it’s important that I get up to the level they’re at before I can be considered for selection.”
He added: “These back-to-back games with the Ospreys are going to be really tough – two big games which will decide if we’re still in the pool come January.
“The Ospreys have an incredible staff of players, New Zealand internationals, Lions, Welsh internationals and Scottish internationals. They’ve a phenomenal squad and one of the biggest budgets in Europe.
“They’re a really big challenge for us back-to-back. We’ve beaten them already this season but we lost twice to them last year in the Magners League, which they went on to win by beating Leinster away from home.
“They’re an excellent side and are a lot more experienced than when we played them in Heineken Cup a couple of seasons ago. It’s going to be very tough.”
Meanwhile, Wales international Adam Jones will make his 50th Heineken Cup appearance having been named in the Ospreys team to face Munster.
The big team news for the visitors is that their former All Black flanker Marty Holah has been cleared to play in this weekend’s Celtic derby.
He won his appeal against the two-week suspension which was handed down to him earlier this week, for tripping Chis Paterson and playing an opponent without the ball during the Ospreys’ recent Magners League match against Edinburgh.
From the side that started last weekend’s 33-16 victory over Edinburgh, Tommy Bowe, James Hook and Mike Phillips return in the backs and Paul James, Adam Jones, Jerry Collins and Jonathan Thomas come back into the starting pack.
Former captain Ryan Jones has been selected in the second row alongside current skipper Alun Wyn Jones, with Thomas combining with New Zealanders Holah and Collins in the back row.
Amongst the injured players unavailable for the Welsh region are Wales and Lions duo Lee Byrne (thumb) and Shane Williams (shoulder).
MUNSTER: Paul Warwick; Doug Howlett, Keith Earls, Sam Tuitupou, Johne Murphy; Ronan O’Gara, Tomas O’Leary; Wian du Preez, Damien Varley, Tony Buckley, Donncha O’Callaghan, Mick O’Driscoll, James Coughlan, David Wallace, Denis Leamy (capt).
Replacements: Mike Sherry, Darragh Hurley, John Hayes, Paul O’Connell, Alan Quinlan, Peter Stringer, Lifeimi Mafi, Denis Hurley.
OSPREYS: Barry Davies; Tommy Bowe, Andrew Bishop, James Hook, Richard Fussell; Dan Biggar, Mike Phillips; Paul James, Richard Hibbard, Adam Jones, Ryan Jones, Alun Wyn Jones (capt), Jerry Collins, Marty Holah, Jonathan Thomas.
Replacements: Mefin Davies, Duncan Jones, Craig Mitchell, Ian Gough, Justin Tipuric, Jamie Nutbrown, Sonny Parker, Nikki Walker.
Referee: Christophe Berdos (France)
Assistant Referees: David Rose, Stuart Terheege (both England)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Munster to win: 2/9; Draw: 20/1; Ospreys to win: 3/1
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Pre-Match Quotes: Tony McGahan (Munster) – “You have to look at each match on its own merits. But it’s most important to get the first result right.
“We’re at home first up (in these back-to-back games), so there’s a lot of pressure on us. You have to make sure that you win your games at home and don’t have to chase up and catch up points.
“So, if we can get the result this weekend, we can turn up the heat on them next week. Whether you’re away or at home, to get the first win is really important.
“I think when you hear the Heineken Cup, regardless of which team you’re playing, that brings an immediate call of attention.
“There is that familiarity, but we’ve only played the Ospreys once this season and we’re going in fresh and really aware of their current form.
“We know what they did last season, turning us over twice. That’s still fresh in our memory and we’re keen to undertake the job this season.
“That (43-9 quarter-final win over the Ospreys) was a couple of years ago and both sides have moved on, players have moved on and the game has changed.
“It’s there, but we certainly won’t use it as a reference point good or bad. Whether they do is down to their own motivational tools. They beat us at Thomond Park (in the league) and that’s our reference point.
“They won in Ireland elsewhere last season, winning the Magners League final by beating Leinster. They’re travelling with no fear of coming here, so we have to make sure we’re in a good frame of mind.
“The Ospreys have evolved and probably tightened up a bit. But they still retain the flamboyant approach and the belief that they can play.
“That’s very evident in their Welsh psyche. They are a very skilful player group and their environment projects that.
“They’ve a lot of internationals in their squad and have ways that the Welsh national side are attuned to. Saying that, they do kick the ball a lot more than sides give them credit for.
“But they can play when the opportunity presents itself. You have to be careful with your kicking game. You can’t be giving them any loose kicks because they have the ability with their back-three to cause real problems.
“That’s important. But they also have a pack that’s developing a steely edge, with Jerry Collins and a few others.”
Jonathan Humphreys (Ospreys forwards coach) – “We’re going into this game in pretty good shape generally. We’ve worked hard to build our squad depth and we’ve seen over the last month to six weeks some players putting their hands up.
“Barry Davies had his first full 80 minutes last weekend, Richard Fussell has been in excellent form and is looking a real threat every time he gets the ball, while Justin Tipuric is really blossoming, so we won’t be looking at the negatives, only the positives.
“That’s exactly what we want it to be like here, we want competition for places and that’s definitely what we’ve got. It’s something we keep on repeating, but I believe that we’re getting that mix right and there is a good mood around the place at the moment. Selection has been very difficult, which is always a good sign.
“Our squad is a very experienced one, the players have experienced winning Grand Slams, playing in front of big crowds, and as we saw last season they have the know-how to go to places like Munster and win big games.
“We certainly won’t be focusing on games that have been and gone, they are in the past. It’s about Sunday now, it’s a whole new ball game.
“We all realise that we need to continue improving, we need to be more clinical and get the finer details right. We had a good win against Edinburgh last weekend that made it four successive wins, but we know that there is definitely room for improvement.
“We’ll be working hard to find that extra 10%, but one thing we do know for sure is that it’s going to be a real test for us.”
Current Form – Munster – (Magners League): Won 33-17 at home to Aironi Rugby; Won 16-13 away to Edinburgh; Won 22-10 at home to the Ospreys; Won 43-29 away to Glasgow Warriors; Lost 13-9 away to Leinster; (Heineken Cup): Lost 23-17 away to London Irish; Won 45-18 at home to Toulon; (Magners League): Won 39-13 at home to Benetton Treviso; Won 16-6 away to Ulster; Won 27-26 at home to the Scarlets; Lost 20-6 away to the Newport Gwent Dragons; Won 16-9 at home to the Cardiff Blues
Ospreys – (Magners League): Lost 27-26 away to the Ospreys; Won 32-16 at home to Benetton Treviso; Lost 22-10 away to Munster; Won 38-6 at home to Aironi Rugby; Won 21-18 away to the Scarlets; (Heineken Cup): Lost 19-14 away to Toulon; Won 27-16 at home to London Irish; (Magners League): Lost 31-23 away to Glasgow Warriors; Lost 21-16 at home to the Newport Gwent Dragons; (LV= Cup): Lost 18-17 away to Newcastle Falcons; Won 46-13 at home to Leicester Tigers; (Magners League): Won 16-15 away to Connacht; Won 19-15 at home to Leinster; Won 33-16 at home to Edinburgh
Top Scorers – 2010/11 Heineken Cup: Munster – Points: Ronan O’Gara 27; Tries: Doug Howlett 2; Ospreys – Points: Dan Biggar 21; Tries: Shane Williams 2
Previous European Meetings: 3
Sunday, April 12, 2009 – Quarter-final – Munster 43 Ospreys 9, Thomond Park
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:
2009/10: Reached the semi-finals
2008/09: Reached the semi-finals
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
2009/10: Reached the quarter-finals
2008/09: Reached the quarter-finals
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