Munster aim to soar past Ospreys

ALAN GAFFNEY insists the focus is on rugby not controversy - even if tonight's Celtic League clash between Munster and Neath/Swansea Ospreys at Musgrave Park (8.05pm) has a distinct edge about it.

Gaffney swears that not a word has been spoken, officially at any rate, about the soured relationship between the two clubs following the Heineken Cup game at the Gnoll on October 31.

Ronan O'Gara will captain a Munster side that shows four changes from the Castres game, and Gaffney says the main thrust of his side's preparation has been to overtake the visitors, who are three points clear at the top of the table.

Munster and Ospreys were locked in a bitter battle early last month when Richard Mustoe, the Welsh club's winger, was cited for a stamping incident on Marcus Horan.

Subsequently, the Ospreys counter-cited Horan for racial abuse aimed at Samoan player Elvis Sevalai'i. The upshot was that Mustoe was suspended, while Horan was totally cleared by European Rugby Cup Ltd.

But Gaffney now just wants to concentrate on the game. "We haven't spoken about what happened. It's in the past and the issues have been dealt with. We have to move on from that. Our aim has been to prepare for a very important match.

"We want to win the Celtic League and we can go top by winning this game. It's the only thing on our minds."

One of Munster's four changes occurs in the back line, where Paul Devlin comes in place of Anthony Horgan, coach Gaffney obviously anxious to see how the League convert has progressed since joining from Widnes Vikings.

Elsewhere, Gaffney gives John Hayes, Paul O'Connell and Anthony Foley a break, which means Gordon McIlwham comes into the front-row, Tom Bowman partners Donncha O'Callaghan in the second-row with Jim Williams anchoring the scrum. Even though the sides meet again in the return Heineken Cup fixture in Limerick on January 8, neither would appear to have held back and seem determined to go for broke.

Gaffney has made six changes from the team that won in Neath, but neither John Kelly or David Wallace, both injured, were available.

He decided to rest John Hayes, Paul O'Connell, Anthony Horgan and Anthony Foley but can still call on top class replacements, Mike Mullins, Paul Devlin, Gordon McIlwham, Tom Bowman, Alan Quinlan and Denis Leamy.

These are busy times for Munster, who also have to face Connacht and Leinster over the Christmas and new year period before taking on the Ospreys again in Europe.

"We are conscious of the importance of all these games and I will try to utilise the squad system to the best of my ability," he said.

Flanker James Bater will captain the Ospreys in the absence of the injured Barry Williams. Coach Lyn Jones has restricted himself to four changes from that October 31 game. Mustoe is suspended and Matthew Jones comes in for him. Paul James takes over from Duncan Jones at loose head, Richard Hibbard is in for Williams and Jonathan Thomas replaces Brent Cockbain in the second row.

Indicative that the Ospreys might have learned from the chastening experience in the aftermath of the Gnoll game, coach Jones referred to Bater's choice as captain: "James has show fine leadership qualities and has performed well over the last few games. I feel he has the ability to stay calm in a storm and this quality will be well suited to Musgrave Park."

MUNSTER: C. Cullen, S. Payne, M. Mullins, R. Henderson, P. Devlin, R. O'Gara (captain), P. Stringer, M. Horan, F. Sheahan, G. McIlwham, T. Bowman, D. O'Callaghan, A. Quinlan, J. Williams, D. Leamy. Replacements. F. Roche, J. Flannery, T. Hogan, S. Keogh, E. Reddan, P. Burke, J. Storey.

OSPREYS: A. Durston, E. Seveali'i, S. Parker, G. Henson, S. Williams, M. Jones, J. Spice, P. James, R. Hibbard, A. Jones, A. Newman, J. Thomas, J. Bater (captain), R. Jones, S. Tandy.

Replacements: C. Wells, A. Millward, B. Cockbain, C. Griffiths/A. Lloyd, R. Pugh, R. Rees, D. Tiueti.

More in this section

RugbyCeltic LeaguePlace: Musgrave ParkPlace: GnollPlace: LimerickPlace: NeathPlace: EuropePerson: Alan GaffneyPerson: GaffneyPerson: Ronan O'GaraPerson: Richard MustoePerson: Marcus HoranPerson: HoranPerson: Elvis Sevalai'iPerson: MustoePerson: Paul DevlinPerson: Anthony HorganPerson: John HayesPerson: Paul O'ConnellPerson: Anthony FoleyPerson: Gordon McIlwhamPerson: Tom BowmanPerson: Donncha O'CallaghanPerson: Jim WilliamsPerson: John KellyPerson: David WallacePerson: Mike MullinsPerson: Alan QuinlanPerson: Denis LeamyPerson: James BaterPerson: Barry WilliamsPerson: Lyn JonesPerson: Matthew JonesPerson: Paul JamesPerson: Duncan JonesPerson: Richard HibbardPerson: WilliamsPerson: Jonathan ThomasPerson: Brent CockbainPerson: JonesPerson: BaterPerson: JamesPerson: C. CullenPerson: S. PaynePerson: M. MullinsPerson: R. HendersonPerson: P. DevlinPerson: R. O'GaraPerson: P. StringerPerson: M. HoranPerson: F. SheahanPerson: G. McIlwhamPerson: T. BowmanPerson: D. O'CallaghanPerson: A. QuinlanPerson: J. WilliamsPerson: D. LeamyPerson: F. RochePerson: J. FlanneryPerson: T. HoganPerson: S. KeoghPerson: E. ReddanPerson: P. BurkePerson: J. StoreyPerson: A. DurstonPerson: E. Seveali'iPerson: S. ParkerPerson: G. HensonPerson: S. WilliamsPerson: M. JonesPerson: J. SpicePerson: P. JamesPerson: R. HibbardPerson: A. JonesPerson: J. ThomasPerson: J. BaterPerson: R. JonesPerson: C. WellsPerson: B. CockbainPerson: C. GriffithsPerson: A. LloydPerson: R. PughPerson: R. ReesPerson: D. TiuetiEvent: Celtic LeagueEvent: Heineken CupEvent: ChristmasOrganisation: MunsterOrganisation: OspreysOrganisation: NeathOrganisation: Swansea OspreysOrganisation: European Rugby Cup Ltd.Organisation: Widnes VikingsOrganisation: ConnachtOrganisation: Leinster

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