Munster look to have enough in reserve for Ospreys
Hard-fought win in Glasgow proves Rob Penney’s men are moving in right direction
Ian Keatley to return for Munster against Ospreys. Photograph: Morgan Treacy
A summit meeting between the League’s top two sides might normally have set the pulses racing, all the more so given the historical edge between these two. At times over the years, they most definitely didn’t like each other, but both the sense of anticipation and familiarity has been dimmed a little by this fixture falling on the eve of the November Test window.
In the circumstances therefore, it is also a test of the strength in depth which any prospective league title contender invariably has to demonstrate throughout the course of the campaign. As the Ospreys are the bulk suppliers to the Welsh squad – a role Munster have passed on to Leinster here – at face value this clash looks to a be bigger test of Welsh reserves.
The hard-earned nature of Munster’s win away to previously unbeaten Glasgow last week ought to have done wonders for morale within the entire set-up. With seven players in the Ireland squad, three long-term injuries and James Downey (back spasm) and Andrew Conway (bruised ribs) ruled out, Rob Penney has made eight changes to last week’s starting XV but his re-jigging appears to be more seamless.
Ian Keatley returns ahead of last week’s man of the match JJ Hanrahan as the Munster management continue to share the load between their two outhalves, while Duncan Williams and Felix Jones return at scrumhalf and fullback, with Johne Murphy moving to the right wing in place of Conway.
Dave Kilcoyne, Damien Varley and BJ Botha form a completely new but strong frontrow, with lock Dave Foley and blindside Dave O’Callaghan also restored, as CJ Stander retained in his favourite position of number eight. Despite scoring six tries in his 14 competitive appearances since arriving a year ago this week, only five of those have been from the start, and this will be his first start at Thomond Park since his two-try, Man of the Match full debut against Glasgow last December 1st.
Core of experience
Helpfully Donncha O’Callaghan has been released from the Ireland squad after being called up to train with them this week, as has James Coughlan at his own request to obtain some game time, and he will appear from the bench. Behind that frontrow, those two, Keatley, Casey Laulala and Murphy ensure a reasonable core of experience running through the side.
It could be that the Ospreys’ Indian sign over the Irish provinces is ebbing away. The Welshmen have won only one of their last seven encounters with Irish provinces, when beating Connacht 43-26 at the Sportsground five weeks ago. That said, they are unbeaten in their last five fixtures against Munster.
The Ospreys ended a three-game losing streak which had seen them toppled at home by Ulster and Leinster with last week’s bonus point win at home to the Dragons. However, with 13 players in the Welsh squad and six more injured, coach Steve Tandy has been obliged to make 10 changes to his starting line-up.
Ospreys have won at Thomond Park twice since 2006, and as ever will not lack for confidence. Yet the sleeves-rolled-up, endgame resistance in Glasgow should also have done wonders for Munster’s mood, and they’ll be disappointed if they don’t avail of what seems like a gilt-edged opportunity to record back-to-back top of the table wins.