With the momentum of three successive wins behind them, Munster are hoping to knock the table-topping Ospreys off the perch when the RaboDirect PRO12 heavyweights clash in Swansea on Saturday night.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Saturday, December 3
OSPREYS (1st) v MUNSTER (3rd), Liberty Stadium, 6.30pm (live RTÉ Two/S4C)
Team News: Munster head coach Tony McGahan has made seven changes in personnel for Saturday’s RaboDirect PRO12 showdown with the Ospreys in Swansea.
There is just one change in the back-line with Doug Howlett not surprisingly returning in place of Luke O’Dea, who made an impressive try-scoring debut against Edinburgh last weekend.
It is up front where most of the tinkering has been done with just two players, the veterans Marcus Horan, who will win his 200th provincial cap, and Donncha O’Callaghan retained at loosehead prop and lock respectively.
Regular captain Paul O’Connell has been kept in reserve, along with Ronan O’Gara, and in his absence Peter O’Mahony will skipper Munster from number 8 with Denis Leamy at blindside flanker and Niall Ronan on the openside.
Horan will become just the seventh Munster player to be capped 200 times when he steps out onto the Liberty Stadium pitch.
Praising his former team-mate, Munster assistant coach Anthony Foley said: “Having played and worked with Marcus, I’ve seen first hand the sort of work ethic and application he brings to the game. And he’s been doing that week in, week out over the past 13 seasons.
“Remember too he’s had his share of time out with illness and injury, and we recognise the test of endurance he’s had to face and yet still managed to accumulate 200 caps. I think that says it all about the man.
“He’s been a massive servant to Munster and the game in general and sets an example to others of what it takes to be worthy to wear the Munster jersey.”
Meanwhile, the Ospreys management have made just one change to the team that started last weekend’s 17-6 victory over Connacht in Galway.
Jonathan Thomas returns to second row duty, with James King reverting to openside flanker in place of recent league debutant Chauncey O’Toole.
The table toppers are missing 19 players owing to Wales’ Test against Australia this weekend, Wales Seven duty and injuries.
Huw Bennett, Ryan Bevington, Dan Biggar, Ian Evans, Ryan Jones, Justin Tipuric and Shane Williams are all away with the Wales squad, while the injury list includes Adam Jones (calf), Alun Wyn Jones (foot), Nikki Walker (ACL) and Kahn Fotuali’i (rib).
OSPREYS: Barry Davies; Tommy Bowe, Andrew Bishop, Ashley Beck, Richard Fussell; Matthew Morgan, Rhys Webb; Duncan Jones, Richard Hibbard, Aaron Jarvis, Ian Gough, Jonathan Thomas, Tom Smith (capt), James King, Joe Bearman.
Replacements: Mefin Davies, Cai Griffiths, Joe Rees, George Stowers, Sam Lewis, Tom Isaacs, Sonny Parker, Hanno Dirksen.
MUNSTER: Denis Hurley; Doug Howlett, Will Chambers, Danny Barnes, Simon Zebo; Ian Keatley, Tomas O’Leary; Marcus Horan, Damien Varley, BJ Botha, Donncha O’Callaghan, Donnacha Ryan, Denis Leamy, Niall Ronan, Peter O’Mahony (capt).
Replacements: Denis Fogarty, Wian du Preez, Stephen Archer, Paul O’Connell, James Coughlan, Conor Murray, Ronan O’Gara, Johne Murphy.
Referee: Peter Allan (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: Sean Brickell, Huw David (both Wales)
Television Match Official: Paul Adams (Wales)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ospreys to win: 8/11; Draw: 20/1; Munster to win: 11/10
Pre-Match Quotes: Donnacha Ryan (Munster) – “We didn’t perform fantastically well in the (European) games – we played sporadically – but I thought we worked extremely hard and showed a massive attitude and resolve to dog out the wins.
“I don’t think we ever panicked at all (against Castres). As a team, we just said we’d focus on ourselves and we stood up against them, we really had the better of them in the physicality stakes. That showed in the end. It was just a pity we had to leave it so late to get the result.
“To lose at home (to the Ospreys earlier this season) was a massive disappointment. It’s not something we take lightly especially at Thomond Park.
“They’re a fantastic side, and we’re going to have to be very aggressive up front. They’ve got a tough pack and I think we’re just going to have to see how we go in the physicality stakes. We’re going to have to match them and take it from there.
“It has been a good few months (for me personally), a great few months I suppose. In August, getting a few starts for Ireland was a massive achievement for my career and then getting selected for the World Cup was a massive plus.
“It was nice to get a few runs over there, without trying to be a passenger. It was great to perform on the biggest stage in the world.
“Since coming home, I’ve put in some good performances for Munster and I see trying to keep that going as my main challenge.”
Jonathan Humphreys (Ospreys) – “Any game against Munster is a tough one and this weekend will be no different. We’ve been involved in some really tight games against them over the years and there generally doesn’t tend to be more than one score in it.
“We’re expecting them to come over fully loaded with their internationals and they’ll definitely be targeting this one, so we’re going to have to be at our best. There’s no doubt about that.
“We’ve got a good record in the PRO12 this season, we’ve only lost the one game, but we’re not kidding ourselves about where we are. We know that we’ve got to continue improving our game, working hard and find that clinical edge.
“That’s not to take anything away from this group of players who have done so well. They’ve worked hard, they are playing for the cause and they’ve been getting results.
“This will be the toughest test for them yet, no doubt about it given the circumstances of the game, but they have shown already that they are prepared to front up and wear the shirt with pride.
“They are going to have to do that again on Saturday night, and hopefully they’ll be able to send our supporters home happy.”
Top Scorers – 2011/12 RaboDirect PRO12: Ospreys – Points: Dan Biggar 104; Tries: Rhys Webb 3; Munster – Points: Ian Keatley 87; Tries: Danny Barnes 4
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
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
Saturday, October 8, 2011 – Munster 13 Ospreys 17, Thomond Park
– The Ospreys have lost just one game in the RaboDirect PRO12 this season, going down 28-17 at Glasgow in round 7
– The Ospreys’ only home defeat in the league in the last twelve months was 22-20 to this weekend’s opponents, Munster, last April
– Munster have won their last three matches in all competitions since their 24-19 reversal at the hands of provincial rivals Leinster at the Aviva Stadium on November 4
– Munster’s 17-13 defeat by the Ospreys at Thomond Park in round 6 ended an eight-game winning run by the Munstermen against the Welsh regions
– The men in red won 22-20 on their most recent visit to the Liberty Stadium last April