MUNSTER have several reasons for wanting to put manners on Magners League champions the Ospreys at Thomond Park tonight (8pm), not least the fact that it marks a red letter evening for Alan Quinlan.
Denis Leamy will captain the side for the fifth time this season in the continued absence of injured skipper Paul O’Connell, but Quinlan will lead the team out to celebrate a remarkable 200th cap for the province; leaving him one shy of Anthony Foley’s record.
The 36-year-old isn’t finished by a long shot either, and is now tipped to comfortably beat Foley’s smashing haul in the coming weeks and months.
The intensity of this game could heighten on the basis of the belief emanating from the Ospreys camp that they can win again in Limerick. Additionally, as this is the first of four games between the clubs this season — two Magners League and two Heineken Cup ties — the outcome of this could well be a marker for what is to come.
Munster coach Tony McGahan makes only one change in the back division from the starting team against Edinburgh last week, with Tomás O’Leary elevated ahead of Peter Stringer at scrum half.
Clearly, McGahan is doing his best to mix and match the talent at his disposal, not least because of national team requirements — Ronan O’Gara is on the bench for the second successive week but no doubt he will be introduced to play a significant role in this tie.
There is a whole new front row with the return of Marcus Horan, Denis Fogarty and John Hayes while Donncha O’Callaghan replaces Mick O’Driscoll in the second row to play alongside Donnacha Ryan.
They will surely need to be at their best as Ospreys coach Sean Holley has named a star-studded team with only one of a crack back division, scrum-half Jamie Nutbrown, yet to be capped at senior international level.
The experience extends to the pack with six Welsh internationals joined by two from New Zealand in the form of Jerry Collins and Marty Holah.
As much as Munster captain Leamy intends to stop them in their tracks, he conceded this week that it will be a hugely physical contest and that he, Niall Ronan and Quinlan would have their work cut out to cope with their big back row opponents.
The Ospreys coach Sean Holley described it as a huge game. “It’s a really big one for us, Munster always is, and the fact that it is so early in the season is irrelevant. Munster are one of only two unbeaten teams in the league even at this stage, so it’s important for us that we look to stop them building up a gap on us in the first month.
“Our form in Ireland last season went a long way to helping us winning the Magners League, with three wins from four in the regular season before the big one in Leinster in the final. We picked up a lot of the points on the road. We’ve already lost in Ulster this season, so it’s important that we change that.
“We play Munster four times this season, so it’s a bit of a mini league we’ll have going over the coming months. They are a team that we have the utmost respect for and I think that’s mutual. They’ve had a good start, there’ll be a big crowd there and it’ll be tough.”
But there was warning for Munster in the following: “Still, we’ll go there with confidence and belief in ourselves because of what happened in the past.”
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