Munster welcome Rabo-Direct Pro12 champions Ospreys to Thomond Park looking to stop the rot after back-to-back defeats in the league that have left the province six points off the play-off qualification places. Penney and his coaches read their players the proverbial riot act at a team meeting in Mitchelstown on Wednesday in the wake of a miserable 34-10 defeat at Treviso.
Asked if the Munster players had shown a clear determination to put things right, Penney replied: “We’ll find out on Saturday night. Words are cheap. Anyone can say what they want, it’s the actions that will be credible in the statement that they’ll have made, or not made.”
Away defeats to Scarlets and Treviso have left Penney saying his team has to “win everything” between now and the end of the regular season, while results elsewhere were also impacting on Munster’s qualification prospects.
“Without a doubt but there’s six games to go and things can go for us as well. We’ll see what happens. We’ll focus on us. We can only control us. Our job is to get out there and perform as well as we can, as well as we are capable of and I know we are capable of, then the results will flow for us. We’ll see but we’ve just got to perform well.”
Penney is able to call on Ronan O’Gara at fly-half and David Kilcoyne at loose head prop following their release from the Ireland Six Nations squad, while Munster captain Doug Howlett returns to the wing for the first time since the Heineken Cup defeat of Racing Metro on January 20, following which he had a knee scope.
There are two further changes to the line-up which started in Italy last Sunday with scrum-half Cathal Sheridan handed his first competitive start for Munster in place of Duncan Williams, who drops to the bench, while Damien Varley gets the nod at hooker over Mike Sherry, who started and captained the side in the last two outings.
Penney is acutely aware of the likely difference in confidence levels as Munster face an Ospreys side that features Wales and Lions lock Alun Wyn Jones and was the last Welsh region to win at Thomond Park in October 2011, the first of four straight wins over the province.
“I haven’t seen Ospreys play badly yet. They’re there or thereabouts in every match they play... there’s very few games where teams have got away from them. So they’ll be tough. They’ve got Alun Wyn Jones coming back and they’ll be buoyed by the confidence they’ve got from beating us in the first game and buoyed by a lot of things.
“They’ll be in a really confident frame of mind whereas we won’t be, probably. So there are challenges in that.”
Ospreys have issues of their own with eight players unavailable due to international duty with Wales. Joe Bearman and Ross Jones are suspended and seven more are injured, including flying wing Hanno Dirksen and Wales back row Aaron Jarvis. They were also beaten on their last visit to Ireland, 22-10 at Connacht on February 15.
“We know that we’re going to have to tough it out, it’s always a difficult place to play,” Ospreys head coach Steve Tandy said.
“We’ve got some reinforcements back from Wales and from injury, but we’ll need these boys to get straight back up to speed and be at their best. We’ll have to be mentally right going there as well if we are going to get anything from the game.”
MUNSTER: F Jones; D Howlett (capt), C Laulala, J Downey, D Hurley; R O’Gara, C Sheridan; D Kilcoyne, D Varley, S Archer; I Nagle, B Holland; P Butler, T O’Donnell, J Coughlan.
Replacements: M Sherry, W du Preez, BJ Botha, D Foley, S Dougall, D Williams, I Keatley, I Dineen.
OSPREYS: R Fussell; T Habberfield, J Spratt, A Beck, T Isaacs; M Morgan, K Fotuali’i; D Jones, S Baldwin, C Griffiths; A Wyn Jones (capt), L Peers; J King, S Lewis, J Thomas.
Replacements: M Dwyer, M Thomas, D Arhip, I Gough, D Baker, A Ellis/S Davies, R Webb, T Grabham.
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU).