This is Munster’s fourth meeting of the season with the Ospreys and although they have already secured a home semi-final berth, Tony McGahan wants his side to avenge their Heineken Cup defeat to the Welsh region from December.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Saturday, April 23
OSPREYS (5th) v MUNSTER (1st), Liberty Stadium, 6.30pm (live RTE 2/S4C)
Team News: Munster will be bolstered by a number of returning international players for Saturday’s Magners League match against the Ospreys at the Liberty Stadium.
Out-half Ronan O’Gara will captain Munster as they look to continue their winning run. Tony McGahan’s men have chalked up seven successive victories across the Magners League and Amlin Challenge Cup.
Keith Earls, Donncha O’Callaghan and David Wallace are also back on first team duty, along with Felix Jones, Doug Howlett and James Coughlan.
In all, there are 14 changes – three of which are positional – to the side that overcome the Scarlets 13-6 in Llanelli last weekend.
In the back-line, the inclusion of Jones at full-back means a switch to centre for Paul Warwick, with Lifeimi Mafi positioned at outside centre in the absence of the injured Johne Murphy (eye).
Up front only two players who featured from the start against the Scarlets, Marcus Horan and Donnacha Ryan, are retained. Ryan will pack down this time in the back row.
Meanwhile, five of the Ospreys’ six changes in personnel are the in the forwards for this ‘must win’ clash.
Front rowers Ryan Bevington and Richard Hibbard, lock Ian Gough and back rowers Justin Tipuric and Jonathan Thomas all return to the starting line-up, following last weekend’s defeat at the Newport Gwent Dragons.
Richard Fussell also returns on the left wing, with top try scorer Nikki Walker moving to the right wing and Ireland’s Tommy Bowe forming the centre partnership with James Hook.
Andrew Bishop, Paul James, Hiw Bennett, Ryan Jones and Jerry Collins drop to a replacements bench which includes Wales scrum half Mike Phillips, who has been linked with a move to France.
OSPREYS: Lee Byrne; Nikki Walker, Tommy Bowe, James Hook, Richard Fussell; Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb; Ryan Bevington, Richard Hibbard, Adam Jones, Ian Gough, Alun Wyn Jones (capt), Justin Tipuric, Marty Holah, Jonathan Thomas.
Replacements: Huw Bennett, Paul James, Duncan Jones, Ryan Jones, Jerry Collins, Mike Phillips, Andrew Bishop, Sonny Parker.
MUNSTER: Felix Jones; Doug Howlett, Lifeimi Mafi, Paul Warwick, Keith Earls; Ronan O’Gara (capt), Conor Murray; Marcus Horan, Damien Varley, John Hayes, Ian Nagle, Donncha O’Callaghan, Donnacha Ryan, David Wallace, James Coughlan.
Replacements: Mike Sherry, Wian du Preez, Tony Buckley, Tommy O’Donnell, Niall Ronan, Peter Stringer, Danny Barnes, Simon Zebo.
Referee: Jerome Garces (France)
Assistant Referees: Leighton Hodges, David Bodilly (both Wales)
Television Match Official: Tony Rowlands (Wales)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ospreys to win: 8/15; Draw: 20/1; Munster to win: 6/4
Pre-Match Quotes: Damien Varley (Munster) – “It’s all about momentum and keeping that as we go into the final stages of the season. We have the semi-final of the Amlin Challenge Cup the following weekend and this game couldn’t come at a better time in that context.
“There is also huge competition for places in the squad, so everyone’s playing for their place and looking for a good performance to stake a claim for inclusion next time around.
“There are still areas where we want to improve and push still further with two semi-finals still to come.
“The Ospreys have a very strong scrum and it’s an area where we may have failed in some of the three previous games against them this season.
“But we have worked very hard in this area, it has improved immensely over the last number of weeks, and we’re confident of taking them on up front.
“The Ospreys are a great team, especially at the Liberty Stadium. We struggled there in December but the Munster way is to play with high intensity and at a level where the opposition can’t cope.
“We proved it against Leinster, although Brive was probably a different kettle of fish but we still know we have the squad to win these games.”
Jonathan Humphreys (Ospreys) – “We wanted to freshen things up a little bit in terms of selection, there are some boys who have performed well who we felt deserve a chance in a game like this.
“We’re disappointed with how things went against the Dragons and we believe that these guys can really put a spring in our step for a game that has so much riding on it.
“It’s the time of year when it’s all or nothing, we have to get two wins and hope that the Dragons can continue to perform like they did against us. If that happens, then we’ll be in the play-offs, but it’s going to be tough.
“We know what we need to do, and we know that we have to keep clear heads, focus on doing the basics right and be professional. If we do that, the rest should fall into place.”
Top Scorers – 2010/11 Magners League: Ospreys – Points: Dan Biggar 226; Tries: Nikki Walker 8; Munster – Points: Ronan O’Gara 147; Tries: Doug Howlett 6
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Saturday, April 19, 2008 – Munster 9 Ospreys 8, Musgrave Park
Friday, January 9, 2009 – Ospreys 21 Munster 25, Liberty Stadium
Friday, May 15, 2009 – Munster 36 Ospreys 10, Thomond Park
Saturday, December 5, 2009 – Ospreys 19 Munster 14, Liberty Stadium
Saturday, April 24, 2010 – Munster 11 Ospreys 15, Thomond Park
Saturday, September 18, 2010 – Munster 22 Ospreys, Thomond Park
– Munster won 22-10 when the two teams met in Limerick in round 3. The Ospreys and Munster won their respective home game when they clashed in this season’s Heineken Cup
– No Irish team has won at the Liberty Stadium since Leinster did so on 18 September 2009
– The Ospreys are without a win in their last three matches, and have only once before gone through four winless league games, back in the 2003/04 season
– The Ospreys are unbeaten at the Liberty Stadium since the Newport Gwent Dragons were the visitors and victors on October 30 last
– Munster have already ensured that they will top the league after the regular season and thereby qualify for a home Magners League semi-final. The Munstermen have won their last four away games in all competitions