Preview: Munster v Ospreys

Date published: May 22 2015

1022.6666666666666x767__origin__0x0_461668200

By the time of kick-off, Munster and Ospreys will know who they would face at Ravenhill next weekend if they come through this semi-final victorious.

The bookmakers believe it will be a Glasgow Warriors versus Munster Pro12 final but we would advise not writing off the Welsh side of causing an upset.

International stars such as Alun-Wyn Jones and Dan Biggar continue to impress in the black shirt while many have tried and failed to stop Rhys Webb scoring.

Webb has crossed eleven times in just 14 Pro12 matches this season and will tackle Munster's hat-trick man from last week, Conor Murray. That battle is one of many set to excite in Limerick on Saturday, with Paul O'Connell against the aforementioned Jones another that intrigues at Thomond Park.

Boosting Munster's line-up is the returns of captain Peter O'Mahony and winger Simon Zebo, who have successfully rehabbed their respective hip and back complaints to take their place in a side that sees four personnel changes.

Dave Kilcoyne and Stephen Archer both return to join Eusebio Guinazu in the front-row, while O'Mahony's start at six sees Donnacha Ryan revert to lock to partner O'Connell with Paddy Butler and CJ Stander remaining at seven and eight.

Last weekend's man of the match Murray continues at half-back alongside Ian Keatley, as do Denis Hurley and Andrew Smith in the centre, while the final change sees Zebo re-join Keith Earls and Felix Jones in a dangerous back three.

Meanwhile, two Ospreys players are set to hit milestones this weekend as full-back Dan Evans will make his 100th appearance in the Pro12 while scrum-half Tom Habberfield is set to reach cap number 50 for the region off the bench.

Despite having beaten Munster twice already this season, boss Steve Tandy stressed his side would not be overconfident.

"What's gone earlier in the season has gone. We won't be reading too much into the two wins against Munster, and you'd expect that would be the same for them. It's all about Saturday," he said ahead of a mouth-watering semi-final.

"Our prep has been good this week. It's been important to keep the routine the same as normal, to keep the same habits, the fact that it is a semi-final makes no difference in how we approach the game. We have to be consistent in how we do things, ensure that we follow the same practices and habits that have got us to this point. To that end it's a good mental test of a young group and how they deal with the different pressures of the week."

He added: "This weekend is about the here and now though, and what will be a really tough afternoon against a really good Munster side that will be most people's favourites with home advantage. A lot has been written this week about no away team ever having won a semi-final. It's a good statistic, but that's all it is, a number. We have to back ourselves to go there, enjoy the occasion, and focus on the factors we can control if we are going to be the first."

Form: Munster are unbeaten in their last five Pro12 encounters, a run which has seen them now reach the play-off stage in five of the last six seasons, although none of those encounters have been played at Thomond Park since 2011. The Munstermen have won only one of their last nine semi-final appearances in all tournaments since 2008: 18-11 over Ospreys in Limerick in the Pro12 in May 2011. Ospreys have won their last six Pro12 matches since drawing 9-all at home to Leinster on 27th February. The Welshmen have won their last three away games in the tournament, and have never won four in a row on the road in the history of the competition. This is the Ospreys first appearance in the play-offs since 2012 with their two most recent appearances at this stage both being against Munster, losing in Limerick in 2011 but exacting revenge at Liberty Stadium a year later. Ospreys achieved the Pro12 double over Munster during the regular season, being only one of two sides to have defeated Munster on their own ground this season – the other was Edinburgh in Round 1. Ospreys' last four visits to Thomond Park have resulted in two victories, one draw and just one defeat.

The teams:

Munster: 15 Felix Jones, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Andrew Smith, 12 Denis Hurley (c), 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Ian Keatley, 9 Conor Murray, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Paddy Butler, 6 Peter O'Mahony (c), 5 Paul O'Connell, 4 Donnacha Ryan, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Eusebio Guinazu, 1 David Kilcoyne.
Replacements: 16 Duncan Casey, 17 John Ryan, 18 BJ Botha, 19 Billy Holland, 20 Jack O'Donoghue, 21 Duncan Williams, 22 JJ Hanrahan, 23 Ronan O'Mahony.

Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Jeff Hassler, 13 Ben John, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Eli Walker, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Dan Baker, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (c), 4 Tyler Ardron, 3 Dmitri Arhip, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Nicky Smith.
Replacements: 16 Sam Parry, 17 Marc Thomas, 18 Aaron Jarvis, 19 Rory Thornton, 20 James King, 21 Tom Habberfield, 22 Sam Davies, 23 Jonathan Spratt.

Date: Saturday, May 23
Venue: Thomond Park, Limerick
Kick-off: 14:30 local (13:30 GMT)
Referee: Nigel Owens
Assistant Referees: Leighton Hodges, Ian Davies
TMO: Gareth Simmonds

COMMENTS