Ospreys v Munster
Today: Liberty Stadium, 2.40pm
TV: Sky Sports
Felix Jones and Ian Keatley have been released by Ireland coach Joe Schmidt for Munster’s Guinness Pro12 clash with the Ospreys at Swansea’s Liberty Stadium this afternoon.
Further good news for Munster fans is that Donnacha Ryan returns to action after a lengthy injury layoff and will feature off the replacements bench.
Just as Munster go into the game without their Irish team regulars, so, too, are the Welsh region deprived of a number of leading players including Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb, Alun Wyn Jones, Dan Lydiate and Scott Baldwin, so the occasion will test the mettle and quality of the two squads.
Munster and the Ospreys have met 30 times in the Celtic League, Munster have 15 wins with 14 losses, but a more ominous statistic from an Irish perspective is that Ospreys are unbeaten in the competition at home since February 2014. Furthermore, they came out 19-14 on top in the first meeting of the sides this season at Thomond Park.
Ospreys desperately need a positive result after falling outside of the automatic top four who contest the knock-out stages. They have Welsh international Justin Tipuric in their starting lineout along with two other keymen, tight head prop Aaron Jarvis and blindside flanker James King.
Anthony Foley predicts a huge test for the visitors: “We are going to face stern opposition. They are always very tough to play in the Liberty Stadium, you would have seen that last weekend with the Leinster game. This is the end of the block during the Six Nations and it is important to get a result.”
When margins are as tight as they invariably are when the top sides meet, experienced scrummagers like BJ Botha have a major role to play. Although diplomatic early this week when questioned about his relationship with Pro12 referees, Botha has nevertheless found himself at cross purposes with several officials over the years. It will be important today that he avoids conceding penalties, especially in kickable positions where they could be severely punished by Sam Davies, the Ospreys out-half who kicked two penalties and a drop goal against Leinster. The South African prop’s relationship with Italian referee Marin Mitrea could play a decisive role in the outcome.
“The win over Glasgow took us to the top of the table and now we have everyone chasing us,” said Botha. “It’s a tough place for any side to go; tough and physical and demanding and we’ll look forward to that and being there but obviously we know those guys are gunning for us.”
Foley continues with JJ Hanrahan at full-back. Felix Jones is preferred to Andrew Conway on the right wing while fit again Dave O’Callaghan returns at No.6 in place of man-in-form Jack O’Donoghue who will hope to continue his try-scoring exploits off the bench. And it’s from there, too, that Ryan will make his reappearance after many months of frustration caused by a foot injury.
OSPREYS: D Evans; T Grabham, J Spratt, J Matavesi, H Dirksen; S Davies, T Habberfield; R Bevington, S Otten, A Jarvis, L Peers, T Ardron, J King, J Tipuric capt, D Baker.
Replacements: M Dwyer; N Smith, D Arhip, R Thornton, O Cracknell, M Allen, M Roberts, B John.
MUNSTER: JJ Hanrahan; F Jones, K Earls, D Hurley capt, R O’Mahony; I Keatley, D Williams; D Kilcoyne, E Guinazu, B J Botha, B Holland, Donncha O’Callaghan, Dave O’Callaghan, S Dougall, CJ Stander.
Replacements: K O’Byrne, J Ryan, S Archer, D Ryan, J O’Donoghue, N Cronin, A Smith, A Conway.
Referee: M Mitrea (Italy).
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