Though both sides are short a number of players because of international calls, Ospreys, with five starting for Wales against Australia and four more on the bench, are the harder hit affording Munster the golden chance of taking full points.
Ospreys, Leinster and Glasgow top the Pro12 with 26 points, three ahead of Munster who see the game as crucial in maintaining the momentum built up in the victories over Glasgow Warriors and Ulster.
Munster make four changes from the win over Ulster with Stephen Archer, Darren O’Shea and Robin Copeland coming into the pack for John Ryan, Billy Holland and Donnacha Ryan, all in Chicago with Ireland. Tyler Bleyendaal returns at out-half for Ian Keatley, having been rested against Ulster.
New Zealander Rhys Marshall, a new signing from Super Rugby’s Chiefs, arrived in Munster this week and is among the replacements.
Munster director of rugby Rassie Erasmus doesn’t forgive failure or forget what caused it and the loss to Cardiff at Musgrave Park in the second week of the Pro12 is still clearly a source of irritation. He strongly believes if only they had dealt with adversity in the same positive manner that illuminated their comeback in Belfast last week, it would have been a different result.
“The way the guys stuck to their guns and kept on trying things, which was totally opposite to the last five, 10 minutes of the Cardiff game, was great,” he says. “What was so frustrating against Cardiff was that were almost hoping for something to happen. Last week (against Ulster) I felt the guys pushed and pushed until something did happen.”
Erasmus knows the free-scoring rugby the Ospreys have been producing on their march to the top of the table. So far, they have scored 37 tries, gained 3, 779 metres as a reward for some dynamic ball carrying, made most carries (982) and most passes (1,458). The absence of a host of Welsh international stars including Justin Tipuric, Dan Lydiate, Bradley Davies, Dan Biggar, and Rhys Webb made little difference against the Dragons last week when they won 35-17.
In that game, 18-year-old flyer Keelan Giles, although only 5ft 8 inches and weighing close to 12 stone, ran in two tries on the back of four in the previous outing against Lyon in the European Challenge Cup. He represents a serious threat this evening.
Fijian centre Josh Matavesi is another huge threat tonight, after a man-of-the-match performance against the Dragons. He moves to out-half for this game with Dan Biggar and Sam Davies both required by Wales.
“Going away to Munster is always one of the most difficult challenges in the Pro12, going there minus 12 boys with Wales makes it even tougher,” said head coach Steven Tandy.
“In fairness to this group of players, they haven’t shirked anything and have risen to all the challenges presented to them this season and they are going to have to go again on Friday night.”
Erasmus is under no illusions about the threat Giles and Matavesi present. “Ospreys have scored something like 15 tries more than other teams in the competition. That says a lot about the way they like to play so it’s going to be a challenge, it will be about implementing our systems and accepting that sometimes they are going to catch you and score tries and it’s how you handle that and get back into the game [that counts].
“Defensively we are going to be really tested.”
A Conway; D Sweetnam, J Taute, R Scannell, R O’Mahony; T Bleyendaal, D Williams; D Kilcoyne, N Scannell, S Archer, D O’Shea, R Copeland, P O’Mahony capt, T O’Donnell, J O’Donoghue.
R Marshall, P McCabe, B Scott, J Madigan C Oliver, A Griesel, I Keatley, A Wootton.
D Evans; K Giles, B John, A Beck, E Walker; J Matavesi, T Habberfield capt; P James, S Parry, D Arhip, L Ashley, A Beard, R McCusker, O Cracknell, J Bearman.
H Gustafson, G Thomas, M Fia, R Jones, S Otten, B Leonard, J Spratt, D Howells.
M Mitrea (Italy).