Preview: Munster v Ospreys

Date published: May 19 2017

Munster Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus has made no less than 12 changes to his side for the PRO12 semi final against Ospreys at Thomond Park.

Returning to the starting XV, Donnacha Ryan and Francis Saili are set to line out in the red jersey at Thomond Park for the final time, while Billy Holland, Keith Earls and Andrew Conway are the only players retained from round 22.

Joining Holland and Ryan in the tight-five are front rowers Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell and John Ryan, while in the back row Peter O’Mahony returns as captain with Tommy O’Donnell and CJ Stander completing the pack.

Conor Murray and Tyler Bleyendaal resume their half-back partnership, the former making his first start since returning from a shoulder injury.  Murray also draws ever closer to the century landmark for Munster and will make his 99th appearance this weekend.

Saili and Rory Scannell return to the midfield and the final change sees Simon Zebo re-join the back-three at fullback with Conway reverting to the wing and Earls remaining in situ on the opposite flank.

Having just signed new two-year deals with the province, both Ian Keatley and Jaco Taute are named among the replacements.

Meanwhile, Ospreys Head Coach, Steve Tandy, commented ahead of the fixture:

“After 22 weeks we’ve got to the stage now where there are four teams left in contention and it’s all about what happens on the day, nothing else," said Tandy.

“We’ve had a good two weeks to prepare for this but we know the size of the challenged we’re up against. Munster have been one of the standout teams in Europe this season and Thomond Park is an imposing venue, but we’ll travel to Limerick with belief in our ability to go out there and do what we have to on Saturday.

“Our record there is pretty decent, we’ve got boys in the team who know what it takes to win there, and we can draw on that experience, but it’s like I said, what happened last week, last month, last year, whatever, it won’t mean a thing at quarter past six on Saturday night. All that will count is what happens over the next hour and a half.

“It’s good that we can welcome back one or two senior players who can provide different kinds of leadership in the build-up and once the whistle goes, but we aren’t getting ahead of ourselves. If we are going to deliver a winning performance on Saturday it will have to be a huge team effort, from everyone in the squad, not just the ones with 1-23 on their backs.

“It’ll be tough, no doubt about it, but these are the games we want to be involved in. They are the ones that matter and it’s what we’ve been working towards since day one of pre-season 11 months ago. We want to make that effort, all that hard work, count for something and we can’t wait to get started.”

Form: Munster have played in seven previous PRO12 Semi-Finals, winning four, three of these have been at Thomond Park. The Munstemen’s only defeat in the PRO12 since round 6 was 21-30 to Scarlets in Limerick at the end of February – Munster’s only defeat at the venue in any competition since Christmas 2015.

Ospreys only victory in the last five rounds of PRO12 was 24-10 at home to Ulster on 29 April.  Ospreys have lost their last three away games in the Championship but have not lost four in a row on the road since season 2014/15. The Welshmen have won just once on their last six visits to an Irish Province: 32-11 against Connacht in Galway in round 2 this season.

Munster have lost only one of their last five fixtures against Ospreys, 17-21 in Cork in February 2016 whilst Ospreys have not won in Limerick since September 2014. The two sides have met in three previous PRO12 Semi-Finals with Munster having the edge by two wins to one.

The teams:

Munster: 15 Simon Zebo, 14  Andrew Conway, 13 Francis Saili, 12 Rory Scannell, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Tyler Bleyendaal, 9 Conor Murray, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Tommy O’Donnell (c), 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 Billy Holland, 4 Donnacha Ryan, 3 John Ryan, 2 Niall Scannell, 1 Dave Kilcoyne
Replacements: 16, Rhys Marshall, 17 James Cronin, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Jack O’Donoghue, 21 Duncan Williams, 22 Ian Keatley, 23 Jaco Taute.

Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Keelan Giles, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Ashley Beck, 11 Tom Habberfield, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 James King, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Sam Underhill, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (c), 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Rhodri Jones, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Nicky Smith
Replacements: 16 Scott Otten, 17 Paul James, 18 Dan Suter, 19 Lloyd Ashley, 20 Olly Cracknell, 21 Brendon Leonard, 22 Sam Davies, 23 Josh Matavesi

Date: Saturday, May 20
Venue: Thomond Park
Time: 18:15 BST (17:15 GMT)
Referee: Luke Pearce (England)
Assistant Referees: Matthew O’Grady (England), Wayne Falla (England)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)