DENIS LEAMY is back for Munster, while Irish international colleague Tommy Bowe has the tough task of replacing the injured Lee Byrne at full-back for the Ospreys in tomorrow’s Heineken Cup quarter-final clash at Thomond Park (1pm).
Leamy returns from injury to play at number eight and ousts the unlucky Niall Ronan, Ronan pushed out by the decision to move David Wallace to openside in a back row that also, inevitably, includes Alan Quinlan.
Although Ronan must be considered very unlucky, there will be no arguments with Leamy’s selection on the basis of his vast experience.
The selection of Bowe, however, in the number 15 shirt is a surprise. While Ospreys coach Sean Holley was really only praying for a miracle that Byrne would recover from a ligament injury in his left foot, the smart money in Wales was on utility back Jonathan Spratt, the former Wales U-21 full back, taking over.
Other than that, the Ospreys fans reckoned Holley would choose Johnny Vaughton in the position and allow Bowe stay on the right wing. Vaughton will now line up opposite Ian Dowling.
The responsibility thrust upon Bowe is huge, although Holley recently said Bowe’s ability to move around the back division had been of immense importance to the Ospreys this season. “He has done the business wherever he has been chosen,” said But Holley is hoping his side can overcome the additional loss of Gavin Henson and longer-term injury victims Jonathan Thomas, Duncan Jones and Nikki Walker against the European champions in their own backyard.
“It’s going to be a mighty tough assignment in any circumstances,” admitted the coach. “Munster are a great side, a side that has a proven track record over a decade of European rugby.”
Certainly Munster team manager Shaun Payne is under no illusions that Holley’s side will be on a smash and grab mission this weekend, and he attaches little or no significance to the fact that Bowe will wear the number 15 jersey.
“The way the modern game has moved means that any one of the back three, Bowe, Vaughton and Shane Williams, could slip into the full back position when required. It’s more a back three these days than a full-back and wingers, especially the way the kicking game is evolving.
“All three are comfortable on the ball and with kicking as well, so I wouldn’t take too much notice of the number on Tommy’s back. Tommy and Shane are two Grand Slam winners and Tommy has had an outstanding season, so we’re not reading anything into it other than the fact that it’s a very skilful unit,” he said.
MORE than that, Payne believes the Ospreys pack and the back five in particular, could prove a handful for Munster: “The presence of Filo Tiatia, Marty Holah, Ryan Jones, Alun Wyn-Jones and Ian Gough will provide our pack with enough to be going on with; add a strong front row and it’s a seriously tough unit in general,” noted Payne.
He went further to describe the Ospreys squad as amongst the strongest in Europe, saying: “We’ve heard about their injuries but they have quality individuals all through the squad to come in when needed. This is a very good side and we fully know what they’re capable of.”
“Through playing against them over the past number of seasons, and particularly this season, we know this is quality opposition; we’re taking nothing for granted and we won’t read anything into the team they selected.
“We just have to be focused on our own preparations and our own performance. We can’t afford to take our eye off the ball for one second against a team of that calibre.”
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