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Munster must guard against complacency as they look to see off Ospreys at Thomond Park

The defending champions have won nine on the spin in the URC as they look to make it back-to-back titles

Antoine Frisch will make his 40th appearance for Munster in Friday's night's URC quarter-final against Ospreys at Thomond Park. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
URC quarter-final: Munster v Ospreys, Thomond Park, Friday, 7.35 – Live on RTÉ 2, Premier Sports and URC TV

Complacency is an issue that occasionally stems from being distracted in attitude or focus but there haven’t been many traces in Munster’s recent nine-match winning streak in the United Rugby Championship (URC). That’s not to say it’s been a problem-free jaunt, the most recent evidence in the first half against Ulster, but the glitches weren’t down to a lack of intensity.

Munster pay respect to teams visiting Limerick with an unfiltered desire to bury them alive, something that the Ospreys will discover. How the Welsh side copes initially will determine a capacity to meaningfully contest the end game in this quarter-final contest.

Graham Rowntree has made three changes to the starting team that beat Ulster. Antoine Frisch replaces the injured Rory Scannell (ankle) in the centre while there are two alterations in the backrow with John Hodnett and Gavin Coombes relegating Alex Kendellen and Jack O’Donoghue respectively to the replacements.

The bench has also altered in orientation from a six-two to a five-three split. When the selection dust settled hooker Eoghan Clarke, secondrow cum backrow Tom Ahern and Joey Carbery drop out of the matchday 23.

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Diarmuid Barron is fit again following injury and will wear the 16 jersey, while Ennis native Tony Butler comes in for Carbery (thumb injury), who was impressive off the bench against Ulster. Mike Haley is once again available, which is a significant fillip.

Munster assistant coach Denis Leamy acknowledged that there were performance shortcomings the last day. “We hadn’t it all our own way in the first half, we went in 10-points down. Things got away from us a little bit in terms of what were controllables. A little bit more discipline would have denied Ulster access into our 22.

“What is really pleasing when we went in at half-time was that we had a good discussion around what we needed to change and what we needed to do better. Then we had a big impact from our bench which was really pleasing. I thought the boys in the last 30 minutes were excellent and we manufactured a really good win against a very game, young Ulster side.”

The Ospreys show two changes from the team that won 33-29 away to Cardiff at the Arms Park last weekend. Owen Williams starts at outhalf instead of Dan Edwards while Morgan Morse is in for Harri Deaves on the bench.

Williams hasn’t played too many matches of late, limited to a couple of appearances in European Challenge Cup matches. Ospreys head coach Toby Booth said: “We’ve got ourselves to this window of opportunity and we’re excited about it, but we won’t underestimate how tough the game will be.

“Like us, Munster have got a tight group, with a lot of quality in it, and that makes them a very dangerous opponent.”

Keiran Williams is a physical presence in the Ospreys midfield. Photograph: Ashley Crowden/Inpho

Leamy was asked for his assessment of the visitors. He said: “They are very strong in terms of the set piece, their scrum, their maul, their lineout, and you can see that they play for each other; there is a great spirit within their team, and they defend well together. We had a very good 20 minutes in Swansea against them, we seemed to fall off for about 40 minutes and then we finished quite strong again.

“In that period and towards the end of the game the Ospreys were really challenging us, and they had opportunities to really put us under the pump. You see with players like Jac Morgan, Morgan Morris and Keiran Williams at 12, these guys aren’t necessarily Welsh internationals, year on year but they are really good club players. [It’s] a good challenge for our guys in a competition that we really adore.”

Frisch will add creativity to Munster’s midfield, complementing an in-form back three in which Simon Zebo, Calvin Nash and Shane Daly are all contributing handsomely. Jack Crowley didn’t have his best outing the last day and was helped by Carbery’s arrival, but the Innishannon man has been in excellent form for the large majority of Munster’s unbeaten run.

Craig Casey was sharp and alive to possibilities, his distribution quicksilver. One area in which the Ospreys have been consistently strong is their set-piece work this season, something that won’t have been lost on their hosts. Dewi Lake is a tough combative presence, Jac Morgan a real nuisance at the breakdown while number eight Morris is one of the most effective ball carriers in the league.

Behind the scrum, Keiran Williams is strong in contact, Owen Watkins a Test centre while Keelan Giles doesn’t need a great deal of space with his pace.

It is, though, Munster’s game to lose. The bookies have them as 15-point favourites and that’s probably a fair reflection of one team carrying plenty of momentum into the knock-out stages of the tournament and another who squeezed in following the final round of matches.

MUNSTER: Simon Zebo; Calvin Nash, Antoine Frisch, Seán O’Brien, Shane Daly; Jack Crowley, Craig Casey; Jeremy Loughman, Niall Scannell, Stephen Archer; RG Snyman, Tadhg Beirne (capt); Peter O’Mahony, John Hodnett, Gavin Coombes.

Replacements: Diarmuid Barron, John Ryan, Oli Jager, Jack O’Donoghue, Alex Kendellen, Conor Murray, Tony Butler, Mike Haley.

OSPREYS: Max Nagy; Luke Morgan, Owen Watkin, Keiran Williams, Keelan Giles; Owen Williams, Reuben Morgan-Williams; Nicky Smith, Dewi Lake, Tom Botha; James Ratti, Huw Sutton; Jac Morgan, Justin Tipuric (capt), Morgan Morris.

Replacements: Sam Parry, Gareth Thomas, Rhys Henry, Victor Sekekete, Morgan Morse, Luke Davies, Luke Scully, Harri Houston.

Referee: Hollie Davidson (Scotland)

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer