Preview: Ospreys v Munster

Date published: February 17 2017

Scrum-half Tom Habberfield captains the Ospreys as a number of Welsh internationals start against Munster.

Nicky Smith, Scott Baldwin, Rhodri Jones and Sam Davies are among the many starters involved last weekend against England.

Head coach Steve Tandy commented: “This is a big couple of weeks for us now, with home games against Munster and Glasgow over the next two weekends then a trip to Edinburgh before the PRO12 breaks again. If we want to put ourselves in the best possible place to push on for the play-offs in May then we have to perform in these games.

“We know how difficult it’s going to be on Saturday. Munster have been on an incredible run and put themselves in the driving seat in the PRO12, while they delivered some really impressive performances and results in the Champions Cup against top teams. They’ll come here full of confidence in their ability to win this game.

“It’s going to be physical, it’ll be edgy, and a tense 80 minutes, but we know what we’ve got to do. Last weekend a young group stood up to the challenge in Italy and answered questions about their character and attitude when they went behind. This week it’s an entirely different kind of challenge. We’ve got some boys coming back in, from injury and from the Wales squad, we’ve got to get them back into our way of working, then we have to front up for 80 minutes against a very good team.

“This is the kind of game that you get excited about, top of the table, on a Saturday afternoon, and with the way the two teams are playing you’d expect that to be reflected in the stadium with a passionate crowd getting behind the team.

“What’s gone on before is irrelevant, out in Cork in November or the winning run both teams have been on. It’s all about what happens at quarter past five on Saturday.”

Meanwhile, Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus has named his matchday 23.

In making five changes to the side that defeated Newport Gwent Dragons, returning Irish internationals Ian Keatley, Billy Holland and John Ryan have all been made available for the top of the table clash and are included in the starting line-up.

Ryan comes in to join Dave Kilcoyne and Rhys Marshall in the front row while Billy Holland and Darren O’Shea form a new-look second row in completing the front five. Holland will make his 150th appearance for the province this Saturday.

It’s as you were in the back row with Dave O’Callaghan, Tommy O’Donnell and Jack O’Donoghue. Duncan Williams and Captain Tyler Bleyendaal will again line up in the half-backs.

While in the backline Ian Keatley starts at full-back, joining Darren Sweetnam and Ronan O’Mahony in the back three and the final change sees Francis Saili pairing up with Rory Scannell in midfield.

Form: Ospreys are the best team in the PRO12 on current form having tallied 28 of a possible 30 league points from the last six rounds. Ospreys have won all ten encounters played at Liberty Stadium this season and have only missed out on maximum points when Scarlets visited the venue on 27 December. Munster have won their last eight matches in the PRO12 since Leinster beat them at Aviva Stadium on 8 October. The Munstermen’s only defeat to a Welsh Region this season was by a single point to Cardiff Blues in Cork in Round 2 of the PRO12. Munster’s only defeat in their last four encounters with Ospreys was 17-21 in Cork last February. Munster have won on two of their last three visits to Liberty Stadium.

The teams:

Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Keelan Giles, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Ashley Beck, 11 Hanno Dirksen, 10 Sam Davies, 9 Tom Habberfield (c), 8 James King, 7 Sam Underhill, 6 Olly Cracknell, 5 Rory Thornton, 4 Lloyd Ashley, 3 Rhodri Jones, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Nicky Smith
Replacements: 16 Sam Parry, 17 Paul James, 18 Daniel Suter, 19 Tyler Ardron, 20 Dan Baker, 21 Brendon Leonard, 22 Luke Price, 23 Ben John

Munster: 15 Ian Keatley, 14 Ronan O’Mahony, 13 Francis Saili, 12 Rory Scannell, 11 Darren Sweetnam, 10 Tyler Bleyendaal (c), 9 Duncan Williams, 8 Jack O’Donoghue, 7 Tommy O’Donnell, 6 Dave O’Callaghan, 5 Billy Holland, 4 Darren O’Shea, 3 John Ryan, 2 Rhys Marshall, 1 Dave Kilcoyne
Replacements: 16 Kevin O’Byrne, 17 Peter McCabe, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Dave Foley, 20 Conor Oliver, 21 Abrie Griesel, 22 Dan Goggin, 23 Andrew Conway

Date: Saturday, February 18
Venue: Liberty Stadium
Kick-off: 17:15 GMT
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant Referees: Claudio Blessano (Italy), Stuart Kibble (Wales)
TMO: Stefano Penne (Italy)