A word of warning for Anthony Foley and his crew in advance of today’s Guinness Pro12 semi final at Thomond Park – Ospreys don’t much care about reputation or about location.
The Welsh team has won in Ireland and in Limerick before.
Winning here is no particular big deal for Ospreys head coach Steve Tandy who made was keen to make the point yesterday:
“Munster will be most people’s favourites with home advantage.
“A lot has been written this week about no away team ever having won a semi-final.
“It’s a good statistic, but that’s all it is, a number.
“We have to back ourselves to go there, enjoy the occasion, and focus on the factors we can control if we are going to be the first.”
Ospreys’ task is still sizeable, with Foley able to name skipper Peter O’Mahony and his fellow international Simon Zebo in the side after both missed last week’s victory over Newport Gwent Dragons through injury.
That on top of the news that up-and-coming young talent Duncan Casey is also back in the squad after recovering from injury.
But Tandy is hopeful and somewhat confident – after overseeing a couple of wins over Munster this season.
“There’s no doubt that this young squad has punched above its weight this season, and it’s really exciting to think that this group is still maturing.
“At 29, Alun Wyn (Jones) is the only player above 27 in the squad, and the average age in the starters in 24. We have a bright future in front of us.
“This team is only going to get better if they keep working hard, focusing on what they have to and striving for excellence.
“We’re at the stage of the season now where it’s all about what happens on the day.
“The 22-game season is done and dusted, it’s not about bonus tries, or who finishes where. Everything rests on the next 80 minutes and who performs the best on the day.
“What’s gone earlier in the season has gone. We won’t be reading too much into the two wins against Munster, and you’d expect that would be the same for them.”
It will indeed be the same for Munster and head coach Foley will be particularly delighted with the availability of two, if not three, of his key players.
O’Mahony and Zebo have successfully rehabbed their respective hip and back complaints to take their place in a side that sees four personnel changes to the starting 15 that defeated Dragons in Cork last weekend.
Dave Kilcoyne and Stephen Archer both return to join Eusebio Guinazu in the front row, while O’Mahony’s start at 6 means that Donnacha Ryan reverts to the second row to partner Paul O’Connell with Paddy Butler and CJ Stander remaining at 7 and 8.
Last weekend’s Man of the Match Conor Murray continues at half-back alongside Ian Keatley, as do Denis Hurley and Andrew Smith in the centre, while the final change sees Zebo re-join Keith Earls and Felix Jones in the back three.
From the bench, Casey could make his return to action after recovering from a back injury while BJ Botha draws ever closer to the century mark and could make his 99th appearance for the province this weekend.
Right now, Munster have a decent attacking front row platform, not just from the start, but off the bench.
Yet, Foley is wary: “They have a very good pack and they are particularly well-lead by Alun (Wyn Jones); with Justin Tipuric they tend to cause a bit of a nuisance factor at the breakdown. Couple that with Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar you have a very dynamic... both equally capable of kicking, both equally capable of running and putting other people into space.
“They have a depth of experience of coming here and winning.
“Ospreys obviously have a calibre about them that they led this competition for a time, they got off to a great start; as with every competition that runs as long as ours does, they had a bit of a dip about Christmas down to the Six Nations but they have now gone seven games unbeaten.
“They’re the last team to have beaten us.
“We’re fully aware of how good they are and we won’t be taking them lightly.”
On the issue of refereeing, Foley isn’t worried that a Welshman will be in charge today.
“Nigel Owens? Look he’s one of the best referees in the world game at the moment.
“He did the European Cup final, he gets the big fixtures, he won’t be worried about refereeing a Welsh team in a semi final.”
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