The 2010/11 regular-season champions face the competition holders this Saturday as Munster host the Ospreys at Thomond Park.
2010/11's regular-season champions will face the competition holders on Saturday as Munster play host to the Ospreys at a packed Thomond Park.
It is strangely unsurprising that these two have already met on four occasions this season in all competitions, with the tally currently standing at 3-1 in Munster's favour. Rarely do they disappoint on the field, whether it be in the Magners League or Heineken Cup, but it is worth noting that this fixture was almost not on the cards.
For those who didn't catch the Aironi game last week, the Ospreys came very close to not making the play-offs but for a James Hook penalty – by hook or crook and all that. It will be Perpignan who will be blessed with Hook's talents next term and it'll be interesting to follow how the Ospreys cope.
Often the bridesmaids of European club rugby, the glamour region have continued to struggle despite possessing such class as Hook, and the almost defeat in Italy encapsulates what has been another disappointing campaign.
There was little to shout about in the Heineken Cup either as they finished third in a tough pool. However, that hasn't stopped Ospreys hooker Huw Bennett believing that the narrow win at Stadio Luigi Zaffanella was just one of those poor days at the office.
“We didn't do it pretty, we aren't happy with our performance but we got the result and we got ourselves into the semi-final and we can take something from that. We can look forward to this weekend's game now, the boys can focus on that and will work hard to make sure we do ourselves and our fans justice,” he told the Ospreys' website.
Very well spun indeed from the Welshman, but will an improved performance be enough to do what Harlequins recently did to Munster in the Amlin Challenge Cup semi-final?
Speaking of them, it is difficult to sum up Munster's season to be honest as a top-of-the-table finish somewhat masks what has been a disappointment. Granted, they have topped the Magners League table since Round Two and the 2008/09 champions have lost just one fixture in the competition since November. But it is worth noting that it was in fact the Ospreys who were the last outfit to overcome Munster at home in the Magners League.
The formbook is beautifully balanced as you may gather, and with Hook possibly to be playing his last game in black, there is more than a feeling of the stage being set.
“It is all down to what happens on Saturday night, and the 80 minutes at Thomond Park,” Director of Coaching, Scott Johnson added on the Ospreys' website.
“We've said all year that we wanted to defend our title, we've finished in the top four and now we're at the business end of the season.
“It's big games like that being involved in professional rugby is all about. It'll be a real test alright, but we know plenty about Munster just like they know plenty about us. I can see it being a real arm wrestle, but it's a really exciting prospect.”
Meanwhile, Munster have made nine changes, two of those positional, from the side selected for the 22-6 Magners League success against Connacht last time out.
The positional tweaks see young Danny Barnes wear the 13 shirt this time around as opposed to the 12 of last while with Donncha O'Callaghan restored to the second-row Donnacha Ryan moves to 6 at the expense of international forward Denis Leamy.
Ones to watch:
For Munster: Two scores in his last two games makes winger Doug Howlett even more of a threat than usual. The New Zealand finisher agreed in February to see out the full length of his contract, which means he is staying at Thomond Park for another season. Great news.
For Ospreys: It could be his grand finale as an Osprey and we doubt James Hook will go out with a mediocre performance in Limerick. If he grabs this clash by the scruff of the neck, Munster may be in a spot of bother.
Head-to-head: Predicting a low-scoring affair. Step forward Ronan O'Gara and Dan Biggar.
Prediction: Holders, just. Ospreys by 2!
Munster: 15 Felix Jones, 14 Doug Howlett, 13 Danny Barnes, 12 Lifeimi Mafi, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Ronan O'Gara, 9 Conor Murray, 8 James Coughlan, 7 David Wallace, 6 Donncha Ryan, 5 Paul O'Connell (capt), 4 Donncha O'Callaghan, 3 John Hayes, 2 Damien Varley, 1 Marcus Horan.
Replacements: 16 Mike Sherry, 17 Wian du Preez, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Denis Leamy, 20 Niall Ronan, 21 Peter Stringer, 22 Paul Warwick, 23 Simon Zebo.
Ospreys: 15 Richard Fussell, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Andrew Bishop, 12 James Hook, 11 Nikki Walker, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Jonathan Thomas, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Ryan Jones, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (capt), 4 Ian Gough, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Huw Bennett, 1 Paul James.
Replacements: 16 Richard Hibbard, 17 Ryan Bevington, 18 Cai Griffiths, 19 Jerry Collins, 20 Tom Smith, 21 Marty Holah, 22 Tom Isaacs, 23 Ashley Beck.
Date: Saturday, May 14
Kick-off: 18:30 BST (17:30 GMT)
Venue: Thomond Park, Limerick
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: David Wilkinson (Ireland), Kevin Beggs (Ireland)
Television match officials: Peter Ferguson (Ireland)
By Adam Kyriacou