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Preview: Ospreys v Munster

21st February 2014 11:25

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Tom Habberfield Ospreys 2013

Tom Habberfield: At nine for Ospreys

Ospreys boss Steve Tandy has made four changes to his side for Sunday's clash with Munster at the Liberty Stadium.

With Dan Biggar and Rhys Webb on international duty, there's a new half-back combination with Matthew Morgan and Tom Habberfield wearing the number 10 and nine jersies respectively.

The other changes are in the pack where Perry Parker comes in for Lloyd Peers in the second row while Dan Suter makes his first PRO12 start at tighthead prop as a replacement for Aaron Jarvis.

Hanno Dirksen will makes his 50th Ospreys appearance if he comes off the bench.

After last weekend's 75-7 win over Treviso, Tandy expects a tougher assignment against Munster, who are one place above the Ospreys in second place on the table.

"This game will be a big step up in intensity from what this young group have experienced in recent weeks, but it's a challenge they are definitely up for," he said.

"It was a good win last weekend but it's been important to keep people's feet on the ground in training.

"We put together some decent attacking moves, something we've put a lot of work into, but analysing the performance as a whole in the early part of this week we picked up a lot of areas where we need to improve.

"What was really pleasing about the Treviso game was the positive intent about the performance, how we took things we've been working on in training and put them into practice.

"It was exciting to see the youngsters who are getting their chance in the PRO12 to really take the opportunity to go for it and anyone who was here for the game would have left the Liberty full of optimism about the future of the Ospreys.

"We've worked hard on developing local young talent and it's really pleasing to see that the increased investment that the board are making in that area bearing real fruit.

"Like I said, Sunday's game against Munster will be another level again for these boys but they will be approaching the game with confidence and self belief that they can get the performance right and make the supporters proud of them.

"There's responsibility on the likes of Jonathan Spratt, Duncan and Joe Bearman to provide the experience and the guidance to these youngsters, but there is a good mix and a good feeling about the group.

"Hopefully the supporters will buy into what we are doing and will get behind this team in the numbers they deserve on Sunday."

Meanwhile, Donnacha Ryan, Tommy O'Donnell and Felix Jones all return from Ireland camp to start for Munster in this fixture.

Dave Kilcoyne has also been released for the PRO12 clash and is named on the bench with Munster boss Rob Penney making six changes to the team that beat Zebre 36-8 last weekend.

James Downey comes into the side to make his 40th Munster appearance with Casey Laulala drafted into the starting XV to form a solid centre pairing.

Andrew Conway starts on the right wing in place of Gerhard van den Heever and Ian Keatley shifts from centre to fly-half with Cathal Sheridan maintaining his place at scrum-half.

Jones starts at full-back with Simon Zebo, who has four tries in his last three appearances, on the left wing.

There's an unchanged front-row as James Cronin, Duncan Casey and BJ Botha keep their places.

Dave Foley comes into the team to partner Ryan in the second-row with James Coughlan captaining the side from number eight. Tommy O'Donnell and Sean Dougall, making his first start since injuring his ankle against Connacht in December, complete a dynamic back-row.

In the replacements, Young Munster's Ger Slattery will be hoping for a repeat of last week's two-try performance off the bench with Irish internationals Kilcoyne and Stephen Archer completing the front-row cover.

Record appearance holder Donncha O'Callaghan and last week's man-of-the-match CJ Stander are also named on the bench with Duncan Williams, JJ Hanrahan and Denis Hurley providing the cover for the backs.

Form: Ospreys' 75-7 demolition of Treviso last time out was their biggest victory since the region was formed in 2003. Ospreys' only two defeats at the Liberty Stadium in the PRO12 since September 2012 were to Ulster and Glasgow in rounds 5 and 9 this season. The Welshmen have won only one of their last nine contests with Irish provinces: 43-26 against Connacht in Galway in the PRO12 last September. Munster continue to set the pace at the top of the PRO12 standings, having suffered just one defeat in the tournaments since round 3: 19-29 at Ulster on 3rd January. The Munstermen have won all their six fixtures against Welsh opponents this season. Munster have lost on their last three visits to Liberty Stadium since their 22-20 victory in April 2011.

The teams:

Ospreys: 15 Sam Davies, 14 Aisea Natoga, 13 Jonathan Spratt (c), 12 Ashley Beck, 11 Jeff Hassler, 10 Matthew Morgan, 9 Tom Habberfield, 8 Joe Bearman, 7 Sam Lewis, 6 Tyler Ardron, 5 James King, 4 Perry Parker, 3 Dan Suter, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Duncan Jones.
Replacements: 16 Matthew Dwyer, 17 Marc Thomas, 18 Joe Rees, 19 Ryan Jones, 20 Dan Baker, 21 Tito Tebaldi, 22 Hanno Dirksen, 23 Richard Fussell.

Munster: 15 Felix Jones, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Casey Laulala, 12 James Downey, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Ian Keatley, 9 Cathal Sheridan, 8 James Coughlan (c), 7 Sean Dougall, 6 Tommy O'Donnell, 5 Dave Foley, 4 Donnacha Ryan, 3 BJ Botha, 2 Duncan Casey, 1 James Cronin.
Replacements: 16 Ger Slattery, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Donncha O'Callaghan, 20 CJ Stander, 21 Duncan Williams, 22 JJ Hanrahan, 23 Denis Hurley.

Date: Sunday 23rd February
Venue: Liberty Stadium
Kick-off: 1600 (local and GMT)
Referee: David Wilkinson (Ire)
Assistant referees: Wayne Davies, Jon Mason (both Wal)
TMO: Tim Hayes (Wal)

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2Racing Metro Paris14
3Northampton10
4Treviso10