Brian Walsh searches for consistency as Munster bid to close gap on Connacht

Munster begin an all-important phase of the season at Musgrave Park tomorrow (5pm) where a win over Ospreys will help them to reduce the nine-point gap between themselves and Guinness Pro12 table-toppers Connacht.
Brian Walsh searches for consistency as Munster bid to close gap on Connacht

Both teams will have players absent due to international commitments, with Ospreys hoping to spring their excellent scrum-half Rhys Webb from the bench for a first appearance since he suffered a serious knee injury in a World Cup warm-up outing last August.

Munster currently enjoy a six-point advantage over Ospreys, having played a game fewer.

They won the Round 2 clash of the sides by 20-18 at the Liberty Stadium last September and while they have lost their last two Pro12 games at Thomond Park, against Connacht and Leinster, they have won a dozen in a row in Cork and have not been beaten there since going down to Cardiff in 2013.

“They are all big games from here,” stressed Munster backs coach Brian Walsh.

“It is a different dynamic this year. You don’t have any Pro12 side involved in the knockout stages of the European Cup, so everyone is chasing the one goal, with whatever resources they have.

“That makes for an ultra competitive run-in to the end of the season.

“With Edinburgh competing so well, Glasgow and Ospreys, maybe two of the form sides from last year, that little bit lower down, it looks like it is going to be really competitive all the way through.

“We have a game in hand and if we win it, we are back up towards the top. Ospreys this weekend and then Glasgow next week are two pivotal games for us.

“I think everyone struggled through to the end of the 16-week block and needed a break.

“The few knocks and bangs are clearing up nicely and hopefully we can get into a run and bring some consistency over the next couple of weeks before the internationals return.”

With that in mind, head coach Anthony Foley has kept changes to a minimum from the side that scraped a win last time out at Zebre.

Natural rotation sees Dave Kilcoyne and Mike Sherry return in the front-row.

Dave O’Callaghan is back after a lengthy enforced absence in the back row and Duncan Williams comes in for Tomás O’Leary at scrum-half.

There are remarkably few familiar names in the Ospreys line-up, but head coach Steve Tandy still sees no reason why they can’t take something from the encounter.

“Make no mistake about it, we are still in this race,” he insisted. “The Pro12 is tighter than ever with results showing that every team is capable of beating each other.

“There is everything left to play for and you can expect to see plenty of movement in the table over the next few weeks as results go one way, then another.

“We have an exciting young group who are growing in our environment and getting some miles on the clock at the sharp end.”

MUNSTER:

A Conway; D Sweetnam, F Saili, R Scannell, R O’Mahony; I Keatley, D Williams; D Kilcoyne, M Sherry, J Ryan, D Foley, M Chisholm, B Holland capt, D O’Callaghan, J O’Donoghue. Replacements: N Scannell, P McCabe, M Sagario, R Copeland, S Buckley, T O’Leary, C Bohane, D Johnston.

OSPREYS:

D Evans; T Grabham, JJ Engelbrecht, J Matavesi, B John; S Davies, B Leonard capt; N Smith, S Parry, D Arhip, R Bernard, R Thornton, J Bearman, S Underhill, D Baker.

Replacements:

S Otten, G Thomas, M Fia, A Beard, O Cracknell, R Webb, O Walsh, T Habberfield.

Referee:

Leighton Jones (Wales).

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