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Peter Jackson’s View

Guinness PRO12 Editor

18 Apr 2011

Former Daily Mail rugby correspondent Peter Jackson gives us his view on a crucial period of the Magners League season.

Munster may have secured the comfort of a home semi-final as reward for their untouchable position on top of the table but there will be no easing up between now and then, no taking the foot off the pedal.

Such thinking would be anathema to the Munster philosophy, all the more so given that their next match, against the Ospreys in Swansea on Saturday night, will be viewed within the camp as a mission aimed at avenging the defeat which cost them their ritual qualification for the last eight of the Heineken Cup.

The ex-European champions do not need to be reminded of what happened there just before Christmas, when they out-scored their Welsh opponents 2-1 on tries only to lose 19-15 to five Dan Biggar goals on top of Mike Phillips' close-range touchdown.

Whether the Lions scrum-half reappears for Munster's return remains to be seen. Phillips' future as an Osprey is rapidly coming to an abrupt end, the region having agreed to his request to be released from a contract which still has three years to run.

The Ospreys, still striving to reach the level of excellence which enabled them to beat Leinster in Dublin in last year's Grand Final, are in the throes of changing strategy after failing to make the last eight of the Heineken despite beating Munster. With Gavin Henson long gone, James Hook and Lee Byrne about to follow him to France, the Magners champions are pinning their future on home-grown talent, like Rhys Webb.

The 22-year-old has taken over from Phillips with another uncapped Welshman, Tom Isaacs, promoted to the bench. Both featured against the Dragons at Rodney Parade last week when the Ospreys finished up laying seige to the home line only to end up on the wrong end of a thrilling duel.

Munster, therefore, know that another win would leave the holders in grave danger of missing the Play-Offs. They rested a whole host of front-line players last weekend and still came up trumps in Wales, beating the Scarlets in Llanelli on the strength of Simon Zebo scoring the only try. Mere mention of the Ospreys ought to dictate that Saturday's team for Swansea will not be far short of the one beaten there in December.

'We were really disappointed with the result over there in round four of the Heineken Cup,' director of coaching Tony McGahan said. 'So we'll be looking to put that right. You don't drop down for anyone and we certainly won't against the Ospreys.'


Munster and the Ospreys meet again this Saturday

At Parc Y Scarlets, Munster's venture into what the region proclaims to be 'Heart and Soul Rugby Country' offered a revealing insight into the collective ability of their younger players. Seven aged 23 or under featured in the win, amongst them Zebo, the 21-year-old wing whose try made all the difference. Not for nothing did McGahan call it 'a fantastic result.'

The win under Denis Leamy's captaincy shot them into an unassailable lead, 14 points clear of Leinster whose home win over Ulster pushed the northern province down to third, one point ahead of the Ospreys. Even if they take maximum points from Connacht's visit to Ravenhill on Good Friday, Ulster will probably still have to win their last match, a tricky one against the Dragons in Newport, unless Munster do them the favour of winning in Swansea.

The Blues, the only one of the top six not to have won the League since its inception 10 years ago, will climb into third place on Thursday provided they win their one remaining fixture at the Cardiff City Stadium, against Treviso.

The fate of David Young's team will then rest on away Welsh derbies, at the Dragons, then the Scarlets. Win all three and they can expect to make the Play-Offs, even if it means drawing the shortest of straws and a trip to Thomond Park.

Something will have to go seriously awry for Leinster not to secure the second home semi-final, to be played on May 13-14. That would then leave Ulster and two Welsh regions scrapping for the right to go to Dublin or Limerick.

The contenders and their remaining matches:

Munster (Played 20, Pts 75):
Ospreys (away, Saturday), Connacht (home, May 6)

Leinster (Played 20, Pts 61):
Aironi (away, Saturday), Warriors (home, May 6)

Ulster (Played 20, Pts 59):
Connacht (home, Friday), Dragons (away, May 6)

Ospreys (Played 20, Pts 58):
Munster (home, Saturday), Aironi (away, May 6)

Blues (Played 19, Pts 56):
Treviso (home, Thursday), Dragons (away, April 29), Scarlets (away, May 6)

Scarlets (Played 20, Pts 52):
Glasgow (away, Friday), Blues (home, May 6)

Dragons (Played 19, Pts 44):
Edinburgh (away, Friday), Blues (home, April 29), Ulster (home, May 6)