Munster coach Johann van Graan continues what he describes as a “juggling act” in making six changes for tonight’s Guinness PRO14 game against the Ospreys at the Liberty Stadium.
Jack O’Donoghue is included in the replacements and is poised to play his first game since sustaining a serious knee injury in May.
There are rare appearances in the three-quarter line for Young Munster flyer Calvin Nash and former Springbok Jaco Taute, while JJ Hanrahan returns at out-half.
There have been some great games between these teams, with Munster shading the honours with 19 wins against 15 for the Ospreys and just one draw. However, too much significance shouldn’t be placed on their more recent meeting at Musgrave Park last September when just about everything was geared in the home side’s favour.
A sell-out crowd turned up to enjoy the official opening of the new pitch and the appearance in the home side of two big-name close-season signings, out-half Joey Carbery and second-row Tadhg Beirne. The hosts had a try bonus-point secured before half time on their way to a 49-13 victory.
Even though the bookmakers have installed Munster as odds-on favourites tonight, it’s safe to assume that it will be a much closer affair on this occasion. Van Graan admits to a slight frustration in having to rotate players from week to week at this time of the season.
“It is definitely a juggling act,” he accepts. “After the European block of games prior to Christmas, we had to change 13 guys in Ulster because we knew we needed petrol left in the tank for Leinster, Connacht, Gloucester, Exeter, the Dragons.
“This block is a bit different, because we are mostly with the bigger part of our squad and only have three games.
“We are going to give some guys opportunities, but continuity in this short block is also important because it is pretty important that we get the balance right.”
Allen Clarke, the former Ulster and Ireland hooker, is in his first full year as Ospreys head coach and acknowledges that his team’s chances of making the play-offs should they lose tonight are slim.
He is encouraged, however, by their outstanding home record at the Liberty Stadium where they have lost only once since November 2017 (29-20 against Glasgow).
“Munster are one of the best teams in Europe with great strength in depth,” he says.
“They’re at the top of their confidence and riding high. It’s about being in the knock-out positions. We’ve made it difficult for ourselves on the back of losing to Ulster last week and we are fully aware of what’s required of us against a team that’s brimming with confidence and experience.”
OSPREYS: D Evans; H Dirksen, C Allen, T Thomas-Wheeler, K Giles; L Price, M. Aubrey; J Lay, S Baldwin, T Botha, J King, B Davies, O Cracknell capt, S Cross, R McCusker.
Replacements: S Otten, R Jenkins, M Fia, L Ashley, W Griffiths, R Morgan-Williams, J Hook, L Morgan.
MUNSTER: M Haley; C Nash, D Goggin, J Taute, D Sweetnam; JJ Hanrahan, N Cronin; J Loughman, R Marshall, S Archer, J Kleyn, B Holland capt, F Wycherley, C Cloet, A Botha.
Replacements: K O’Byrne, L O’Connor, C Parker, D O’Shea, J O’Donoghue, A Mathewson, B Johnston, R Scannell.
Referee: Stuart Berry (South Africa).