Regular rivals Munster and the Ospreys will meet in an early top of the table clash at Thomond Park, with Tony McGahan’s men looking to put a poor performance against Edinburgh behind them and regain first place in the RaboDirect PRO12.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Saturday, October 8
MUNSTER (2nd) v OSPREYS (1st), Thomond Park, 7.30pm (live RTÉ Two/S4C)
Team News: Munster head coach Tony McGahan has made eight changes for the visit of the Ospreys to Thomond Park on Saturday in what is the last match in the opening phase of the RaboDirect PRO12.
It is by far the glamour tie of this series of games with the Ospreys the only team who are still unbeaten and leading Munster by three points at the top of the table.
Both sides will be desperate to get a win here and go into the break leading the league and doubtless one side will go into this game with an extra pep in their step as a result of proceedings in Wellington earlier in the day.
Doug Howlett returns to Munster’s starting line-up and as a result Johne Murphy reverts to the full-back berth he has occupied so impressively up to now.
Danny Barnes also comes back in at outside centre, while this time around Duncan Williams starts at scrum half ahead of Peter Stringer.
Stephen Archer gets the nod over John Hayes in the front row and Billy Holland, the travelling reserve for last weekend’s clash with Edinburgh, will partner Mick O’Driscoll in the second row.
In what could be the deciding back row area, David O’Callaghan will make his first competitive start at blindside flanker, Niall Ronan retains the number 7 jersey and stand-in captain Peter O’Mahony completes the trio.
BJ Botha has been named on the replacements bench along with fellow prop Marcus Horan, who has recovered from the bout of illness that kept him out of the Edinburgh game.
Hoping Munster can bounce back from their reversal to the Scots, Holland said: “I think we lacked the bit of edge we had in the games before Edinburgh. We just weren’t sharp enough for whatever reason.
“We didn’t help ourselves. 16 points down after 20-odd minutes. We got ourselves back into the game by half-time, but then those scores early in the second half, ten points like. You’ve no chance at that stage.”
Meanwhile, the Ospreys management have made two changes in personnel to the team that lined out for last weekend’s 26-21 home victory over Connacht.
Cai Griffiths takes over from Aaron Jarvis at tighthead prop, while Joe Bearman is back from an abdominal injury and replaces Tom Smith at blindside flanker.
As well as being without their Rugby World Cup-tied players, winger Nikki Walker (knee) and centres Gareth Owen (knee) and Ashley Beck (shoulder) are currently on the Welsh region’s injury list.
Named as a replacement, Sonny Parker is set to become only the third Ospreys player to reach 150 appearances for the region if he gets some game-time in Limerick.
MUNSTER: Johne Murphy; Doug Howlett, Danny Barnes, Lifeimi Mafi, Denis Hurley; Ian Keatley, Duncan Williams; Wian du Preez, Denis Fogarty, Stephen Archer, Billy Holland, Mick O’Driscoll, David O’Callaghan, Niall Ronan, Peter O’Mahony (capt).
Replacements: Sean Henry, Marcus Horan, BJ Botha, Ian Nagle, Tommy O’Donnell, Peter Stringer, Scott Deasy, Simon Zebo.
OSPREYS: Barry Davies; Hanno Dirksen, Tom Isaacs, Andrew Bishop, Richard Fussell; Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb; Duncan Jones, Richard Hibbard, Cai Griffiths, Ian Gough, Ian Evans, Joe Bearman, Justin Tipuric (capt), Jonathan Thomas.
Replacements: Mefin Davies, Aaron Jarvis, Joe Rees, Tom Smith, James King, Matthew Morgan, Sonny Parker, Kristian Phillips.
Referee: James Jones (Wales)
Assistant Referees: David Wilkinson, Eanna O’Dowd (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Seamus Flannery (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Munster to win: 4/11; Draw: 22/1; Ospreys to win: 2/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Tony McGahan (Munster) – “We didn’t work hard enough in attack (against Edinburgh). We had 72% in the opposition half. Stats like that are hard to come by and not win a game and to only score 14 points in a real concern.
“When you consider the week before (against Cardiff) we probably only had 30% of the ball maybe, 15 or 20% over the halfway line and we ended up winning the game.
“So stats can be misleading at times but not all the time. I just think our general work-rate, our general application to getting things done at a Munster pace were the things that let us down.
“When you’re playing away from home you need to make sure you’re controlling field position and the scoreboard. We gave away three penalties that were very easily attained by the Edinburgh attack and then a soft try.
“The Ospreys are a very good side. A well coached side. They’re leading the table and have played the best rugby of any side in the RaboDirect PRO12 this seaso.
“They have an exceptionally good group of young players that they’ve put a lot of faith in. Not just for this block of games but for the rest of the year. They’re always well prepared. We’re expecting a very challenging game.”
Jonathan Humphreys (Ospreys) – “We’re expecting a tough evening. You wouldn’t expect anything else when you play Munster, home or away.
“Both teams may have a different look to them from when we last played, but it will still be intense and will still be a real battle.
“We are well aware that we have to raise our game several levels from where we were against Connacht last week. We weren’t at our best, and a lot of credit for that has to go to Connacht for stopping us playing.
“But we have to expect that and learn how to deal with it. Munster won’t be any different in that area of the game, so we need to learn how to combat it.
“Our tenacity, our spirit and work ethic is spot on. This group of players are displaying all the characteristics we want from Ospreys players, but they need to improve on their accuracy and attention to detail because Munster will make us pay if we don’t get it right on Saturday.”
Top Scorers – 2011/12 RaboDirect PRO12: Munster – Points: Ian Keatley 65; Tries: Danny Barnes 2; Ospreys – Points: Dan Biggar 83; Tries: Hanno Dirksen, Justin Tipuric, Rhys Webb 2 each
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
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 10, Thomond Park
Saturday, April 23, 2011 – Ospreys 20 Munster 22, Liberty Stadium
Saturday, May 14, 2011 – Semi-final – Munster 18 Ospreys 11, Thomond Park
– Munster’s 29-14 reversal in Edinburgh last Friday cost them top spot in the RaboDirect PRO12, and ended their record breaking run of 14 successive victories in the league
– The Munstermen have not lost at home in the competition since the Ospreys visited Thomond Park on April 24, 2010
– The Ospreys rose to the top of the RaboDirect PRO12 table for the first time since round 12 in the 2009/10 season, following their 26-21 home win over Connacht last Friday
– The Welshmen are going for a clean sweep of victories over Irish provinces this season
– The teams met on five occasions last season in all competitions with the Ospreys’ only win coming at the Liberty Stadium in the Heineken Cup