Munster face their first serious test of the new season when they travel to Swansea’s Liberty Stadium todayto face the Ospreys in the third round of the Guinness PRO14.
Matches between the sides are invariably entertaining but almost impossible to predict and this clash looks set to follow that pattern.
Whereas Munster had things completely their own way in home wins against Benetton Treviso and the South African Cheetahs, the Ospreys weren’t hugely impressive in beating Zebre at home while they faded badly away to Glasgow at Scotstoun when conceding late tries that gave their hosts a bonus point win.
Munster coach Rassie Erasmus has only made one change whereas his Ospreys opposite number Steve Tandy has been laying it on the line for his players, that a whole lot more is expected in the weeks ahead.
Although Erasmus has acknowledged that the biggest mistake he made last season was in not rotating the squad, admitting this week that as a result “we were punch drunk when we got to the European semi-final against Saracens and the RO12 final against Scarlets”, he has kept changes to a minimum for the visit to Swansea. Tyler Bleyendaal returns to captain the side from out-half with Ian Keatley dropping out altogether and Rory Scannell earmarked for midfield action later in the game.
International prop John Ryan will make his 100th appearance if he gets the call from the bench having made his debut against Cardiff Blues in September 2011 and will become the tenth member of the current squad to reach the milestone. Further good news is that James Cronin also returns to the starting 23 having successfully rehabbed a knee injury.
Just as Munster are pacing the return of their Lions contingent (Peter O’Mahony, CJ Stander and Conor Murray) Ospreys boss Tandy is adopting a similar approach with the likes of Rhys Webb and Alun Wyn Jones although Dan Biggar and Dan Lydiate are listed among the replacements today. Sam Davies, who looks a certainty to seriously challenge Biggar for the Wales number ten jersey this season, partners skipper Tom Habberfield at half-back with yet another international, James Hook, in the centre and flanker Justin Tipuric and second-row Bradley Davies the likely key men up front.
“Munster at the Liberty Stadium is always a huge occasion for us”, said Tandy. “We know what to expect from Munster, that they will be physical, well organised and clinical and we have to match that. We let ourselves down at key moments last week in Glasgow in what was a real arm wrestle for long periods. In front of our own supporters, it’s important that there’s a positive reaction”.
Results of Munster-Ospreys games over the past couple of years justifies Erasmus’s view that you just don’t know what to expect in games between the sides. In 2015/’16, Munster scraped home by 20-18 in Swansea only to lose narrowly by 21-17 at Musgrave Park. Munster won on the three occasions they met last season, by 33-0 in Cork in November, by a more familiar 25-23 score line later in the season and by 23-3 in the semi-final.
“When we played them last year, they were a difficult team to analyse”, admits Erasmus. “Every time they brought something different. You can’t say they’re a team that mauls or keeps it close or have the hell of a kicking game or have a line speed .... they really mix it up.”
D Evans; K Giles, C Allen, J Hook, J Hassler; S Davies, T Habberfield capt; P James, S Parry, M Fia, B Davies, L Ashley, J King, J Tipuric, D Baker.
S Baldwin, N Smith, R Jones, A Beard, D Lydiate, M Aubrey, D Biggar, K Fonotia.
A Conway; D Sweetnam, C Farrell, J Taute, A Wootton; T Bleyendaal capt, D Williams; L O’Connor, R Marshall, S Archer, J Kleyn, B Holland, S O’Connor, T O’Donnell, J O’Donoghue.
N Scannell, J Cronin, J Ryan, F Wycherley, R Copeland, J Hart, R Scannell, S Zeo.
Stuart Berry (South Africa).
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