Formidable Munster to prolong the agony for struggling Ospreys
Among five changes, Murray and Earls return for their first game since the World Cup
Tyler Bleyendaal: will assume outhalf duties for Munster on their visit to Ospreys at the Liberty Stadium. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho
Heineken Champions Cup Pool 4: Ospreys v Munster, Liberty Stadium, Saturday, 5.30pm - Live BT Sport 3
The profile of this struggling Ospreys team is more remarkable for who is not available to coach Allen Clarke than who will line out today in Swansea.
Welsh World Cup players Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones, George North, Justin Tipuric and Owen Watkin have been labelled unavailable for selection, not injured.
With Tipuric, Beard and Wyn Jones in the stand, the heart of the home side’s second and back row, two areas where Munster will be highly competitive, has been removed. On team selection alone Munster are already one up for the first round of their European challenge.
No doubt with Joey Carbery and JJ Hanrahan both injured certain pressure will fall on Munster outhalf Tyler Bleyendaal to institute the attacking play introduced this season by Stephen Larkham.
Larkham has not been one for tearing down the edifice that was there but has been splicing in small changes to Munster’s attacking play and Bleyendaal would be seen as an intelligent conduit for change.
The 28-year-old has not been without matches in the Guinness Pro 14 and has been sharing the work load with Hanrahan until the latter injured his hamstring against Ulster. Van Graan was no less than effusive about Bleyendaal earlier in the week.
“He has been through some tough times but he is such a quality person, he just takes it in his stride. You have actually got to see within the group to see what massive influence he has in the club,” said van Graan.
“A few years ago he was our Player of the Season. He doesn’t say a lot but he is one of those guys when he says nothing it is immediately respected and people know it is coming from a good place. He is one of our leaders.”
Van Graan has brought back Conor Murray and Keith Earls for their first starts since the World Cup among five changes made to the side that beat Ulster last week with Bleyendaal, Jeremy Loughman and Tommy O’Donnell the other three.
Murray made an appearance in the second half for Alby Mathewson last week in a match where an eye-catching Andrew Conway stole the show with a masterful solo try of strength, pace and conviction.
Conway and Earls are the outside attack with Chris Farrell and Rory Scannell in the centre and Mike Haley at fullback.
Up front Peter O’Mahony captains the side with another new influence Graham Rowntree slowly shaping the pack. Rowntree has said Munster are like the Leicester team he used to play for, with a lot of talent but old school values and oodles of heart.
“I really enjoy the way he presents and delivers messages. He has great thoughts on the game,” observed O’Mahony of Rowntree this week. “I can see he is enjoying being here. I’m not talking out of turn, I don’t think. He is enjoying the group and I think he is enjoying the coaching staff.”
The more abrasive CJ Stander and athletic Tommy O’Donnell gives the Munster backrow a nice balance with locks Jean Kleyn and Billy Holland keeping Tadhg Beirne to a spring from the bench role. Loughman, Niall Scannell and World Cup tighthead John Ryan start in the front row.
There is no getting away from it, Ospreys have had a wretched start to the season with just one win from six in the Pro14 to Munster’s table-topping five wins in six outings. As a result, Ospreys sit one place from the bottom of Conference A.
Many clubs, especially if they have been struggling, see the European campaign as an opportunity to reboot and bring a cup-like mentality into the game. But Munster have too much quality and experience running through the team to drop this opening game even with Ospreys’ home advantage and World Cup players Nicky Smith, Bradley Davies and Aled Davies named on the bench.
Munster have won four out of five of the Champions Cup meetings between the two sides, Ospreys’ only success coming in the last encounter between the clubs in December 2010 with a tight 19-15 win.
Munster have also dominated the meetings in the Pro14 league, winning five out of the last six games including a four-try 28-12 victory in Musgrave Park last month.
OSPREYS: C Evans; H Dirksen, T Thomas-Wheeler, S Williams, T Williams; L Price, S Venter; R Jones, S Otten, M Fia; M Orie, L Ashley; D Lydiate (capt), O Cracknell, M Morris.
Replacements: I Phillips, N Smith, G Gajion, B Davies, S Cross, A Davies, J Hook, K Williams.
MUNSTER: M Haley; A Conway, C Farrell, R Scannell, K Earls; T Bleyendaal, C Murray; J Loughman, N Scannell, J Ryan; J Kleyn, B Holland; P O’Mahony (capt), T O’Donnell, CJ Stander.
Replacements: K O’Byrne, J Cronin, S Archer, T Beirne, A Botha, A Mathewson, S Arnold, D Goggin.
Referee: K Dickson (RFU).
Betting: Munster win 1-6; Ospreys win 4-1. Draw 22-1.