Munster bidding to gain edge on Ospreys

AN OSPREYS team containing seven Lions, two All Blacks and 15 internationals travels to Thomond Park this evening with two objectives.

Of primary concern to the Welsh region is the capture of the four points that would make them a sound bet for a home semi-final in the Magners League while the tie also presents an opportunity to avenge the 43-9 hammering they suffered when the sides last met at the venue just over 12 months ago.

The sides are locked together on 43 points, seven behind pace setters Leinster with two rounds remaining. The Ospreys, however, have a points scoring advantage of eight.

It is difficult to understand why an Ospreys side brimming with talent has so rarely played to its full potential and managed to win the anticipated amount of silverware. Admittedly luck hasn’t always favoured them and that was especially the case when they lost by a point in this month’s Heineken Cup quarter-final away to Biarritz.

The Magners is now the only trophy left for them and accordingly coach Sean Holley has had no hesitation in choosing his strongest possible 22 for the trip to Limerick.

However, his Munster counterpart Tony McGahan must go into the game without inspirational captain Paul O’Connell, Keith Earls and Tony Buckley with doubts concerning their availability for the Heineken Cup visit to San Sebastian eight days later while wings Doug Howlett and Ian Dowling are also ruled out but should be fit for the Spanish mission.

The team is again captained by Ronan O’Gara in the continuing absence of O’Connell with Cork Con pair Tom Gleeson and Scott Deasy on the wings and Mick O’Driscoll again packing down beside Donncha O’Callaghan in the second-row.

It is going to be a difficult game for Munster given the upcoming game against Biarritz and the powerful combination they face this evening. Five of the backs, Lee Byrne, Tommy Bowe, James Hook, Shane Williams and Mike Phillips, starred for the Lions in South Africa last summer. Prop Adam Jones and number eight and captain Ryan Jones were also honoured while yet another Lion, second-row Alun Wyn-Jones, has to settle for a place on the bench. On top of that, the back-row is completed by a couple of All Blacks, Jerry Collins and Marty Holah.

“We are at the make or break stage of the season now with two games left in the Magners League and everything to play for,” said Sean Holley.

“Our aim is to extend our season beyond early May. It’s not going to be easy against Munster or the Dragons, both of whom are also looking to secure a play-off place as well. It’s always difficult going out against Munster who have again this season demonstrated what a quality outfit they are. They don’t lose too often at Thomond Park. But we have won there before and it’s going to be another good game with a lot to play for.”

If the Ospreys play to their potential, they could well seriously dent Munster’s play-off prospects although it is pertinent to point out that no Welsh team has been successful in Thomond Park since March 2004. A Munster side captained by the in-form O’Gara may prevent the Ospreys from improving on that record.

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