Munster’s RaboDirect PRO12 play-off hopes could hinge on the outcome of this heavyweight encounter at Thomond Park as Rob Penney’s charges look to bounce back from their lacklustre performance in Treviso.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Saturday, March 2
MUNSTER (6th) v OSPREYS (4th), Thomond Park, 6.30pm (live RTÉ Two/S4C)
Team News: Munster head coach Rob Penney has made five changes in personnel for Saturday’s RaboDirect PRO12 match against the Ospreys at Thomond Park.
Three of the changes see the return of Ireland internationals Ronan O’Gara and David Kilcoyne and the province’s captain Doug Howlett.
The other notable switch is at scrum half where opportunity knocks for Cathal Sheridan who makes his first competitive start for Munster.
The Munster management continue to rotate Garryowen club-mates Damien Varley and Mike Sherry, with Varley getting the nod for the number 2 jersey this time around.
Penney keeps faith with the back five selected for the Benetton Treviso game even though Niall Ronan was back in the mix after an impressive 80 minutes for Shannon against Old Belvedere.
Sean Dougall has been preferred as back row cover to South African CJ Stander who is omitted from the matchday squad.
Hooker Sherry, who captained the side against Treviso, said: “We had to do a lot this week to pick ourselves up (after losing in Italy). We played very poorly.
“Rob and Simon (Mannix) are coming under stick in the press but it’s completely our fault. We didn’t turn up on the day; we played very poorly and didn’t play to any kind of game-plan.
“We let them get up a head of steam and it was always going to be difficult then in Italy. The weekend was just one bad thing after another, but there’s no excuses, we were terrible and that won’t do.”
“We need to up it again for the Ospreys and we owe the coaches and the fans a huge performance.”
Meanwhile, the Ospreys beat Edinburgh 24-7 in the previous round and will have Ashley Beck, Duncan Jones and Alun Wyn Jones as starters in Limerick.
Beck returns to the number 12 jersey for the first time since December with Jonathan Spratt reverting to outside centre. Tom Isaacs shifts to the left wing with Kahn Fotuali’i back in his regular position of scrum half.
Duncan Jones replaces Ryan Bevington at loosehead prop and captain Alun Wyn Jones resumes in the second row, with Jonathan Thomas reverting to the number 8 position.
Eight members of the Ospreys squad were unavailable for selection because of international duty with the Wales senior squad. Joe Bearman and Ross Jones are also currently suspensed.
MUNSTER: Felix Jones; Doug Howlett (capt), Casey Laulala, James Downey, Denis Hurley; Ronan O’Gara, Cathal Sheridan; David Kilcoyne, Damien Varley, Stephen Archer, Ian Nagle, Billy Holland, Paddy Butler, Tommy O’Donnell, James Coughlan.
Replacements: Mike Sherry, Wian du Preez, BJ Botha, David Foley, Sean Dougall, Duncan Williams, Ian Keatley, Ivan Dineen.
OSPREYS: Richard Fussell; Tom Habberfield, Jonathan Spratt, Ashley Beck, Tom Isaacs; Matthew Morgan, Kahn Fotuali’i; Duncan Jones, Scott Baldwin, Cai Griffiths, Alun Wyn Jones (capt), Lloyd Peers, James King, Sam Lewis, Jonathan Thomas.
Replacements: Matthew Dwyer, Marc Thomas, Dmitri Arhip, Ian Gough, Dan Baker, Arthur Ellis/Sam Davies, Rhys Webb, Tom Grabham.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Mark Patton, Eanna O’Dowd (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Dermot Moloney (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Munster to win: 1/3; Draw: 22/1; Ospreys to win: 23/10
Pre-Match Quotes: Damien Varley (Munster) – “Emotions were probably high after the (Benetton Treviso) game and we didn’t leave until Monday afternoon so there was probably a lot of questions being asked. What can you say?,” he told the Irish Examiner.
“You look at it, you try and evaluate it and see where things went wrong for us and eventually you have to turn your back on it and move on. We have a huge game against Ospreys this week.
“They’re ahead of us in the table and it’s cup rugby from now on so we can’t spend too long dwelling on the mistakes of the last few weeks. We’re not out of anything so we have a lot of fighting to do and a lot of work to do.
“Overall, it was an abysmal performance (against Treviso) and that’s calling a spade a spade. As a squad we’re extremely embarrassed by the performance.
“We’re looking to set it right over the coming weeks. We’re done and dusted reviewing Treviso, (now) we really start focusing on Ospreys and trying to beat them.
“I think qualification for the play-offs is in our own hands at this stage. We’re in a vulnerable place so to speak in the PRO12, but it’s completely in our own hands to get a top four place over the number of weeks that are left and I think we will do it.”
Steve Tandy (Ospreys) – “It’s important that we put in a big performance on Saturday night. Having suffered two defeats on the road, Munster will be happy to be back at Thomond Park where they have an enviable record and will want to secure the win that will cut the gap between us going into the final five rounds.
“We know that we’re going to have to tough it out, it’s always a difficult place to play. We’ve got some reinforcements back from Wales and from injury, but we’ll need these boys to get straight back up to speed and be at their best.
“We know that Munster will have a passionate, noisy crowd getting behind them so we’ll have to be mentally right going there as well if we are going to get anything from the game.
“With four of the last six games away from home we understand the size of the task in front of us but we believe in ability of this squad to rise to the challenge.”
Top Scorers – 2012/13 RaboDirect PRO12: Munster – Points: Ian Keatley 113; Tries: Tommy O’Donnell 4; Ospreys – Points: Dan Biggar 103; Tries: Richard Fussell, Kahn Fotuali’i, Morgan Allen 3 each
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Saturday, April 23, 2011 – Ospreys 20 Munster 22, Liberty Stadium
Saturday, May 14, 2011 – Semi-final – Munster 18 Ospreys 11, Thomond Park
Saturday, October 8, 2011 – Munster 13 Ospreys 17, Thomond Park
Saturday, December 3, 2011 – Ospreys 19 Munster 13, Liberty Stadium
Friday, May 11, 2012 – Semi-final – Ospreys 45 Munster 10, Liberty Stadium
Saturday, September 29, 2012 – Ospreys 30 Munster 15, Liberty Stadium
– Munster have slipped to three defeats in their last four RaboDirect PRO12 fixtures
– The Munstermen’s only two home losses in any competition this season have both been to Welsh opponents at Musgrave Park in the PRO12
– The last Welsh region with win at Thomond Park were the Ospreys themselves in October 2011
The Ospreys’ only reversal in their last seven RaboDirect PRO12 contests was 22-10 to Connacht in Galway on February 15 in their most recent away league game
– They have not lost back-to-back PRO12 away fixtures since the Christmas/New Year period during the 2011/12 campaign
– The Ospreys have won their last four encounters with Munster since the Munstermen were victorious at Thomond Park in the 2011 league semi-final
– The Welsh region have won on two of their nine previous visits to Thomond Park in all competitions