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Preview: Ospreys v Munster

04th December 2009 12:42

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Doug Howlett against Northampton

Welcome return: Doug Howlett

Munster have named James Coughlan at number eight for their Magners League game against Ospreys at Liberty Stadium on Saturday.

The 28-year-old's last appearance at this level was against the Dragons when he came on as a 60th minute replacement for Tommy O'Donnell and prior to that his previous start was against Glasgow in March of last year.

The Ireland international Sevens player was part of a Munster back-row - along with Niall Ronan, Denis Leamy and replacement Billy Holland - who ran the All Blacks so close last season.

"Yes really looking forward to the game at the Liberty," said Coughlin.

"There is huge competition here in Munster for places in the back row and a good healthy rivalry among those of us looking for the jersey. I wouldn't say there's any niggle in training but but it is competitive. It has to be and if it wasn't we wouldn't be as successful a squad as we are."

Coughlan is one of five changes from last time out, four of those up front where newcomer Wian du Preez replaces Julien Burugnaut, John Hayes back in place of Stephen Archer with Coughlan in for Leamy and Ronan replacing David Wallace.

The one change in the back-line sees Doug Howlett back for the first time since injuring a hamstring against Treviso in October.

Without an injury list that includes Adam Jones, Ian Gough, Jonathan Spratt, Ian Evans, Steve Tandy, Tom Smith, Ryan Jones, Barry Davies, Shane Williams, Mike Phillips, Jamie Nutbrown, Tom Isaacs, Conor McInerney, Lee Byrne and Lyndon Bateman, Head Coach Sean Holley has still managed to roll out a strong team.

"December and January is a very big period for us. We've got some crucial games that will dictate where the rest of our season goes, in terms of Heineken Cup progression and our hopes of ensuring a top four finish in the Magners League to secure a place in the play-offs," he said.

"It's a big couple of months for us, the players and all of us at the region know that. And it all starts on Saturday.

"You want to put yourself in a position where you get into these two months with a lot to play for. We have put ourselves in a strong position in Europe and are there or thereabouts in the Magners, and as we know any run of form in that can shoot you up the table.

"At this time of the year we also have to deal with the reintegration into this environment of a dozen players who have been away for a month with their national set-ups, which brings with it its own difficulties.

"But, with the injuries we've got here at the moment, it's a welcome boost for us to be able welcome back players of real quality. Selection has been made with a few things in mind, we need to send out a team that will be competitive against Munster while taking into account the heavy workload that some of the international boys have had over the last month, and the big games that we've got coming up over the next few months.

"Munster will always provide a tough challenge, whatever the occasion, so we know that we'll have to be at the top of our game if we are going to match them.

"We want to get this crucial period off to a good start, so a good performance is essential.

"They've named a strong squad for the visit, so it clear that they are also looking at this game as an important one, and I think it's a great one to get us back into the swing of things after a few weeks without a match."

Form: Munster have won their last four games against Ospreys in all competitions including a 25-21 victory on their most recent visit to Liberty Stadium on 9 January. Ospreys' only win in their last six matches in all competitions was 25-24 over Clermont Auvergne at Liberty Stadium in the European Cup on 18 October. The Welshmen have won just one of their last five games against opponents from Ireland: 19-12 at Connacht in the Magners League on 4 September. Munster's 24-10 victory over Ulster last time out ended a two game losing run for the Magners League champions. The Munstermen have lost five of their last six away matches, but have an impressive record against Welsh opponents, having won 13 of their last 14 such encounters.

The teams:

Ospreys: 15 Gareth Owen, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Sonny Parker, 12 Andrew Bishop, 11 Nikki Walker, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Liam Davies, 8 Filo Tiatia, 7 Marty Holah, 6 Jerry Collins (capt), 5 Jonathan Thomas, 4 Alun-Wyn Jones, 3 Craig Mitchell, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Duncan Jones.
Replacements: 16 Huw Bennett, 17 Paul James, 18 Cai Griffiths, 19 Andy Lloyd, 20 Ben Lewis, 21 Rhys Webb, 22 James Hook.

Munster: 15 Paul Warwick, 14 Doug Howlett, 13 Jean de Villiers, 12 Lifiemi Mafi, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Ronan O'Gara, 9 Tomas O'Leary, 8 James Coughlan, 7 Niall Ronan, 6 Alan Quinlan, 5 Paul O'Connell, 4 Donncha O'Callaghan, 3 John Hayes, 2 Denis Fogarty, 1 Wian du Preez.
Replacements: 16 Damien Varley, 17 Tony Buckley, 18 Donncha Ryan, 19 Mick O'Driscoll, 20 Nick Williams, 21 Peter Stringer, 22 Denis Hurley, 23 Ian Dowling.

Date: Saturday, December 5
Kick-off: 18:30 GMT
Venue: Liberty Stadium
Referee: Neil Paterson (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Hugh Watkins (Wales), Alan Jenkins (Wales)
Television match official: Tony Rowlands (Wales)
Assessor: David Herbert (Wales)

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PosTeamPPts
1Leinster1969
2Ulster1965
3Munster1963
4Glasgow Warriors1860
5Ospreys1956