Will Munster be able to give their supporters an early Christmas present in the form of a third straight pool win or can the Ospreys maintain their impressive home form in Europe? Sit tight for another high octane battle between these giants of Irish and Welsh rugby.
HEINEKEN CUP: POOL 3: Saturday, December 18
OSPREYS (3rd) v MUNSTER (1st), Liberty Stadium, 3.30pm (live Sky Sports 1/HD1)
Team News: Munster head coach Tony McGahan has announced an unchanged starting line-up for the province’s Heineken Cup Pool 3 clash with the Ospreys at the Liberty Stadium.
There is one enforced change to the matchday squad as Donnacha Ryan has been added to the replacements bench, in place of the suspended Paul O’Connell.
The selected side includes wingers Doug Howlett and Johne Murphy and flanker David Wallace, who all touched down in last weekend’s 22-16 victory over the Ospreys in Limerick.
James Coughlan, who impressed in the back row last time out, has held onto the number 6 jersey ahead of the benched Alan Quinlan.
In a key incident in last Sunday’s game, Coughlan managed to gather a loose ball close to his try-line, with Ospreys dangerman Tommy Bowe looming. McGahan highlighted the importance of a moment like that.
“It’s the same every season, you don’t really know in particular games when those moments are, only when they’re gone,” he explained.
“I remember back in the 2007/08 season when we played Clermont Auvergne away and Rua Tipoki held up Elvis Vermeulen over the line in the 58th minute.
“They score then and we don’t get the bonus point, we don’t go through and we don’t get to win the Heineken Cup.
“So moments like that stand out – that one particular effort or mistake can certainly derail the season.
“You don’t know when they’re going to come, you’ve got to approach every one as if it’s a championship action. So we need to make sure we’ve got that hunger and desire on Saturday and I’m sure we will.”
Meanwhile, the Ospreys have recalled Scottish winger Nikki Walker and moved Ireland star Tommy Bowe into midfield for the visit of the Pool 3 leaders.
Andrew Bishop makes way as Walker slots in on the right wing and Bowe, who has two tries against Munster this season, shifts to outside centre alongside James Hook.
Saturday’s game will mark Ryan Jones’ 100th appearance for the Ospreys. Commenting on the landmark, Jones said: “Everybody knows how much I love this region so it’s a tremendous honour and achievement to reach 100 caps for the Ospreys, and is something that gives me great pride.
“It’s an elite club that I’m joining, and to be part of a group that consists of so many great players and real Ospreys is pretty special.
“I don’t want to stop at 100 though. I’ve signed a new deal that will keep me here for a few more years and hopefully I can chalk up a few more appearances yet. For now though, I’ll enjoy reaching 100 in such a massive game for the region.”
The Ospreys have not lost a home Heineken Cup match in the last five years and will be protecting that impressive record without the likes of Shane Williams (shoulder) and Lee Byrne (thumb).
Their last home defeat in the competition was a dramatic 17-15 loss to Leicester Tigers in December 2005.
OSPREYS: Barry Davies; Nikki Walker, Tommy Bowe, 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, Andrew Bishop.
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, Donnacha Ryan, Alan Quinlan, Peter Stringer, Lifeimi Mafi, Denis Hurley.
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant Referees: Franck Maciello, Eric Soulan (both France)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ospreys to win: 4/9; Draw: 18/1; Munster to win: 7/4
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Pre-Match Quotes: Donncha O’Callaghan (Munster) – “The thing about these (back-to-back) games is that there is a carry over, there are probably things that are said and done in matches that, if you played maybe in four months’ time, would be forgotten about.
“If it’s fresh in your mind then it always builds and leaves a bit of a taste. I’m sure the Ospreys are thinking the exact same thing – it’s probably what makes this round of the Heineken Cup so special.
“There is the little bit of edge to it, the afters from last week and, it’s true, it really is only half-time after 80 minutes at home and now we have to go away.
“In ways, it can be a relief to get the home one out of the way because you have to win at home. You haven’t got a hope otherwise.
“That’s done now and it’s time to refocus to see what we can get. We have to pick up a result away at some stage and this is it, backs-to-the-wall stuff. We have to get a result away in the next few weeks and we’ll see how we go on Saturday.
“I don’t want to play it out in any other way other than doing our talking on the pitch on Saturday afternoon.
“(Last weekend’s win) was the result we needed at home and that’s all we were looking for against a very good team. Actually, we were delighted with it – with 20 minutes to go at Thomond Park, you’re always thinking whether you can get a little bit more (like a try-scoring bonus point) but then with Paulie being sent off we had to refocus and just get across the line.
“We feel in this pool that only one team will get out of it, so it’s about winning your home games and looking to go on the road and do something special.
“We’re exactly where we thought we would be, we’re where we thought this pool would fold out and we’re exactly where we love being.
“The supporters, again, were brilliant last Sunday. With a 1pm Sunday kick-off there could have been a terrible atmosphere but it was incredible.
“I think the pressure they put the referee and touch judges under was incredible. People go on about the 16th man, well it was exactly that on Sunday and we’re grateful.”
Tommy Bowe (Ospreys) – “It’s only half-time in this tie and there’s a huge opportunity for us on Saturday in front of our own fans. We’ll try to put things right and we’ll be looking to play a bit of rugby to get our supporters excited.
“We’ve got a very proud European record at the Liberty Stadium and we want to keep that going. We’re going to have our biggest crowd of the season there, it’s going to be another fantastic game of rugby and you can’t help but be excited about it.
“Our fans are going to ‘blackout’ the stadium, we need them to really generate a special atmosphere like we saw at times last Sunday.
“It’s a fantastic competition, we obviously believe that we can progress through the pool stages and to do that, everyone has to play their part on Saturday – on and off the field.
“We are a team that really wants to do well in the Heineken Cup and we believe that we have the ability to really succeed in the competition.
“If you are going to do that then you’ve got to thrive on coming to places like Thomond Park, you have to test yourself and you have to believe in your abilities.
“We believed that we could get the win (last weekend) so obviously we were disappointed no to achieve that. We have to be happy in a way that we got the bonus point, there are a lot of good teams who have failed to do that. Just look at Toulon when they came here recently.
“I suppose it’s only after that match, possibly not even until January, that we will really be able to gauge how important that point is going to be, along with the fact that we stopped them getting a bonus.”
Current Form – 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; (Heineken Cup): Lost 22-16 away to Munster
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; (Heineken Cup): Won 22-16 at home to the Ospreys
Top Scorers – 2010/11 Heineken Cup: Ospreys – Points: Dan Biggar 32; Tries: Shane Williams, Tommy Bowe 2 each; Munster – Points: Ronan O’Gara 34; Tries: Doug Howlett 3
Previous European Meetings: 4
Sunday, December 12, 2010 – Pool 3 – Munster 22 Ospreys 16, Thomond Park
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 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
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