Munster and Ospreys come together at Thomond Park on Saturday, with a place in the Guinness PRO12 final at stake.
This is the third time the sides have met in the semi-finals at Thomond Park, and Munster will look to carry on their table-topping form into the game.
Ospreys finished fourth in the league, boasting 14 victories which was made all the more impressive with the region blooding some young and exciting talent.
The Welshmen last lifted the PRO12 trophy in 2012 with a dramatic 31-30 victory against Leinster, in what was also head coach Steve Tandy’s first season in charge.
What’s at stake?
A place in the Guinness PRO12 Final is the reward for the victor on Saturday, both teams will be hoping to reach that final and succeed 2016 champions Connacht Rugby.
🎥 📺 @PRO12rugby Road to the Semi
— Munster Rugby (@Munsterrugby) May 19, 2017
History is stacked against Ospreys as no away side has ever won a PRO12 semi-final, and Munster are unbeaten at Thomond Park in any competition since Christmas 2015.
Four-time winners Ospreys have suffered a dip in form in recent months but have been missing some key players that are back to give them a boost ahead of the game.
New Zealand-bound skipper Alun Wyn Jones was never going to sit this one out and Ospreys possess enough quality in their ranks to cause an upset.
Munster team news:
Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus has made 12 changes from the side that defeated Connacht, with Billy Holland, Keith Earls and Andrew Conway the only players retained from that game.
Donnacha Ryan and Francis Saili both start at Thomond Park for the final time as they’re welcomed back into the side, Rory Scannell comes back into the midfield to partner Saili.
Simon Zebo comes in at fullback and Conor Murray and Tyler Bleyendaal resume their half-back partnership, Murray is making his 99th appearance for Munster on Saturday.
The front row is made up by Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell and John Ryan – while the back row includes captain Peter O’Mahony, Tommy O’Donnell and CJ Stander at No.8
Ospreys team news:
Ospreys have selected a back three made up of Dan Evans at fullback, Tom Habberfield on one wing and top try scorer Keelan Giles occupying the other.
— Ospreys (@ospreys) May 19, 2017
Kieron Fonotia and Ashley Beck partner up in the centres and the visitors are able to boast a Lions half-back pairing of Dan Biggar and Rhys Webb.
James King starts at No.8 with Justin Tipuric at openside and Sam Underhill completing the back row.
Alun Wyn Jones captains the side alongside Bradley Davies in the engine room, and Nicky Smith, Scott Baldwin and Rhodri Jones form the front row.
Ospreys head coach Steve Tandy admitted that his side face a tough task in Limerick, but is pleased to have his senior players back and is targeting a huge effort.
“It’s good that we can welcome back one or two senior players who can provide different kinds of leadership in the build-up and once the whistle goes, but we aren’t getting ahead of ourselves,” said Tandy.
“If we are going to deliver a winning performance on Saturday it will have to be a huge team effort, from everyone in the squad, not just the ones with 1-23 on their backs.
“It’ll be tough, no doubt about it, but these are the games we want to be involved in. They are the ones that matter and it’s what we’ve been working towards since day one of pre-season 11 months ago.
“We want to make that effort, all that hard work, count for something and we can’t wait to get started.”
Meanwhile Munster Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus is pleased to be able to select from a healthy squad.
“The only thing that we’d be a little bit concerned about is match fitness, or sharpness, of Conor and Tyler Bleyendaal together. Rory Scannell hasn’t been playing a lot of the last few weeks,” said Erasmus.
“So it’s nice to have a fit squad. I won’t moan about that.
“The team selection is more a bit of having to get it spot on because we are playing against a team that are hitting form at the right time.”
There are seven British & Irish Lions involved between the two teams, and all have been named to start at Thomond Park.
Munster have Conor Murray at scrum-half, and two-thirds of a Lions back row in the shape of CJ Stander and blindside Peter O’Mahony who captains the team.
Ospreys will look for leadership from their Lions – Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb, Justin Tipuric and Alun Wyn Jones, who will all be looking to perform well in a tough away fixture – surely a feature of their summer.
Key stat: The Munstermen’s only defeat in the Guinness PRO12 since round 6 was 21-30 to Scarlets in Limerick at the end of February – Munster’s only defeat at the venue in any competition since Christmas 2015.
Did you know? The two sides have met in three previous PRO12 Semi-Finals with Munster having the edge by two wins to one.
Munster top points scorer: Tyler Bleyendaal 126 Top try scorer: Ronan O’Mahony 9
Ospreys top points scorer: Sam Davies 106 Top try scorer: Keelan Giles 7
Overall Guinness PRO12 head to head record:
Played 31, Munster won 15, Ospreys won 15 and 1 game drawn
At Thomond Park, 6.15pm. Live on Sky Sports/TG4/S4C
Referee: Luke Pearce (RFU, 2nd competition game)
Assistant Referees: Matthew O’Grady, Wayne Falla (both RFU)
Citing Commissioner: Maurizio Vancini (FIR)
TMO: Graham Hughes (RFU)
Munster will play Scarlets in the final of the Guinness PRO12 after getting the better of Ospreys in a tense semi-final at Thomond Park.
Munster had led at the break following Frances Saili’s 26th-minute score, while Dan Biggar and Tyler Bleyendaal traded penalties as both sides took stock of what was at stake.
Indeed that mentality carried right through to the second half, right until a moment of Munster magic saw Simon Zebo make it 15-3 with just 18 minutes left on the clock.
And it proved too much for Ospreys to come back from as Andrew Conway scored late on, with the Guinness PRO12 table-toppers now through to face another Welsh outfit in Scarlets, bidding for their fourth title against the final debutants.
Ospreys dominated the opening stages, and the reward for their endeavours came in the form of a penalty from Biggar, with just seven minutes on the board.
But from there the game hit parity as the two sides cancelled each other out with some ferocious hits, though big mauls from Munster saw them wrestle the initiative.
That proved profitable in the form of the first score of the afternoon, with Rory Scannell making the hard yards, keeping the ball in play to allow Saili to mop up, crash over and give his side the lead.
Once again the teams maintained their evenness, but Bleyendaal ensured his Munster side were to lead by five come the interval, dissecting the posts with the final play of the half.
The tight nature continued into the second half, with a Thomond Park semi-final record crowd of 18,332 kept on tenterhooks as the distance between the two was kept close throughout.
Ospreys looked likelier to score when on the Munster five-metre line, though solid defence – as it has been all season – was worth its weight in gold for the home side as they cleared the lines to remain with just 34 tries conceded this term.
It seemed like a moment of magic would be enough to settle this game, and it came from the Munster backs midway through the half – enough to have the home crowd on their feet with an exceptional score.
Pouring forward, it looked as though the Irish province had lost their chance to score, especially when a defensive clearance caught the back three scampering back in retreat of the ball, just moments after they had been held up.
But a breathless minute of rugby was to follow, with Keith Earls, Saili, Conor Murray and Zebo all involved before the latter finished the score.
Crisp passing sent them away down the left wing, with Earls twice involved in the length-of-the-field effort, a try deserving of the subsequent Bleyendaal conversion.
His boot was to once again do the damage five minutes later, kicking a penalty to invoke a 15-minute lead with ten minutes on the clock.
Ospreys looked to have clawed a score back when Scott Otten chipped, chased and dotted down, only for the effort to be hauled back for a knock-on earlier in the piece.
And from there the deficit was too much for the Welsh region, with Andrew Conway adding gloss to the scoreline late on to secure a final for Munster, with the final to come at the Aviva Stadium in seven days’ time.
The Guinness PRO12 Final takes place on May 27 at Aviva Stadium, Dublin.
Fans can guarantee their place by booking their tickets via www.ticketmaster.ie
Further information: www.pro12rugby.com/final