Munster v Ospreys, Magners League semi-final, May 14
Ospreys target Munster upset
May 13, 2011
Ospreys skipper Alun-Wyn Jones meets some resistance from the Munster defence earlier in the season © PA Photos
Munster will continue their search for silverware on Saturday when they welcome the Ospreys to Thomond Park in the second Magners League play-off semi-final.
Irish rivals Leinster and Ulster go at it in Dublin on Friday, but the atmosphere will be just as tense as Munster, who finished the regular season as runaway league leaders, have not seen eye-to-eye with the Ospreys in recent years.
The teams have already met on four occasions this season, with Munster holding the wood over their rivals after coming out on top three times. The Ospreys cannot be discounted however, and Leinster fans will remember well their victory in last year's inaugural Grand Final at the RDS.
Both teams endured Heineken Cup heartache at the hands of Toulon and have pinned their hopes on the league, with the Ospreys sneaking into the top four on the last day of the season thanks to an uninspiring win over Aironi and Cardiff Blues' end-of-season capitulation. The Welsh region will hope to follow in the footsteps of Harlequins, who smashed Munster at Thomond Park in the semi-finals of the Amlin Challenge Cup two weeks ago.
Munster - Player to Watch: Paul O'Connell lives and breathes Munster and his leadership will be vital as they seek to avoid a repeat of their Quins slump.
Munster - Team News: O'Connell returns to the second-row while Donnacha Ryan shifts to blindside, displacing Denis Leamy. Youngster Danny Barnes starts at outside-centre, alongside Lifeimi Mafi, with Keith Earls joining Doug Howlett and Felix Jones in the back-three. Exeperienced props Marcu Horan and John Hayes start.
Ospreys - Player to Watch: This could be the last time we see James Hook in an Ospreys jersey and the mercurial playmaker will doubtless want to sign off in style, whether it be this weekend or in the final.
Ospreys - Team News: Shane Williams has failed to make a comeback from injury, leaving Nikki Walker to fill in on the wing, while in the back-row there is a start for Justin Tipuric at openside. The Waikato-bound Marty Holah starts on the bench alongside Jerry Collins, who has missed out on a starting spot to blindside Ryan Jones and No.8 Jonathan Thomas. Wantaway scrum-half Mike Phillips fails to make the 22.
Key Battle: The one area where the Ospreys will expect to have dominance is at the scrum, where Munster have struggled recently. Paul James and Adam Jones are arguably the best scrummaging props in the league and Munster will be wary of letting the visitors get on top.
Trivia: Munster topped the Magners League table from round two until last week's final set of matches and have lost once since November on the domestic front.
Stats: The Ospreys have beaten Munster on their own track just twice in 11 visits.
"We knew the format setting out. We'd set our sights initially on a home semi-final so as to give ourselves the best possible chance to win the title. We've achieved that. We'll take this as a single game. It's a stepping stone to winning a trophy." - Munster hooker Damien Varley
"It's been an up and down time, a bit of a roller coaster, but every team has peaks and troughs over the course of a season, that's inevitable. It's always going to be the case. We've had some pretty good peaks, and over 22 games we've earned a place in the play-offs and we don't want to waste that hard work and effort now." - Ospreys director of coaching Scott Johnson
Prediction: While the Ospreys will come out swining, Munster are unlikely to suffer Thomond Park stage fright twice this season. Home win.
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