Although the Guinness PRO14 is still young, Friday night’s contest between Munster and Ospreys at Irish Independent Park already has the look and feel of a top-of-the-table clash.
Munster finished second in Conference A last year, whilst Ospreys were fifth, but the Welsh side have started the new campaign with a renewed verve, winning two out of two so far.
What’s at stake?
Ospreys are currently looking down from atop the conference with nine points after an opening day 17-13 win against Edinburgh before they dispatched the Toyota Cheetahs 46-14 last weekend.
Munster on the other hand sit fourth with five points to their name – they followed up a 38-0 triumph over the Cheetahs in round one with a 25-10 loss at last season’s finalists Glasgow Warriors a week later.
Team news (Munster):
The red army received a huge boost with the return of Peter O’Mahony to captain the side on what will be his first start of the season, in one of 11 changes for the province.
He will be joined in the back row by Chris Cloete, who had been out since February after forearm and groin injuries, while fellow Ireland international Andrew Conway is on the wing.
📣 TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT
The Munster squad to face Ospreys at Irish Independent Park tomorrow night has been named.
— Munster Rugby (@Munsterrugby) September 13, 2018
Joey Carbery and Tadhg Beirne make their first starts for Munster after their summer signings from Leinster and Scarlets respectively.
And Arno Botha is the only forward to keep his place from last weekend’s loss at Glasgow, as James Cronin, Rhys Marshall, Stephen Archer and Darren O’Shea also start in the pack.
Dan Goggin comes in at inside centre whilst Sammy Arnold will play 13.
Team news (Ospreys): The Welsh side, similarly, have elected for change, improbably outdoing their opponents as head coach Allen Clarke announced 12 fresh faces in the starting XV.
None of Alun Wyn Jones, George North, Dan Lydiate, Aled Davies, Owen Watkin, Bradley Davies, Dan Evans, Scott Williams or captain Justin Tipuric make the trip to Cork.
James Hook comes in at full-back, whilst Luke Morgan and Morgan Morris make their maiden Guinness PRO14 starts.
Like Munster, only one forward misses out on the cull, as Tom Botha keeps his place, with Rhodri Jones and Scott Baldwin joining the front row.
Adam Beard and Giorgi Nemsadze start behind them, whilst Sam Cross and Olly Cracknell – captain for the night – complete the pack.
Talking points: Ospreys Head Coach, Allen Clarke, said: “It’s been a good start to the campaign with two home wins. Munster away presents a different challenge, particularly as we’ve made changes to the team.
“Squad management is important but so too is player opportunity. Selection represents what we’ve observed throughout pre-season and provides individuals an opportunity to be tested against a quality team.
— Ospreys (@ospreys) September 12, 2018
“The players coming in have earned our trust and the right to wear the shirt; they fully understand the level of performance expected of them on Friday night. As a club it’s important for us to show progress and grow collectively, recognising the tests ahead and the demands of the season schedule.”
Key battle: Darren Sweetnam v Tom Williams
This one is shaping up to be a big night for young Tom Williams, who slots in at right wing in place of the outstanding North.
Not only will the 22-year-old have to try to keep pace with North’s scoring ability – three tries in his first two games since joining Ospreys in the summer – but he will also be charged with trying to keep Darren Sweetnam quiet.
The Ireland international was man of the match against the Cheetahs, scoring Munster’s final try, and is a key fixture out wide for the Irish province.
Key fact: Munster are currently riding a five-game winning-streak over Ospreys, with the Welsh side’s last victory coming thanks largely to 16 points from Sam Davies back in February 2016 as they ran out 21-17 winners.
Did you know? The match is Munster’s first competitive fixture on the new modified 3G surface at Irish Independent Park.
MUNSTER: Mike Haley; Andrew Conway, Sammy Arnold, Dan Goggin, Darren Sweetnam; Joey Carbery, Duncan Williams; James Cronin, Rhys Marshall, Stephen Archer; Tadhg Beirne, Darren O’Shea; Peter O’Mahony, Chris Cloete, Arno Botha
Replacements: Mike Sherry, Dave Kilcoyne, John Ryan, Jean Kleyn, Tommy O’Donnell, James Hart, Ian Keatley, Jaco Taute
OSPREYS: James Cook; Tom Williams, Joe Thomas, Cory Allen, Luke Morgan; Sam Davies, Tom Habberfield; Rhodri Jones, Scott Baldwin, Tom Botha; Giorgi Nemsadze, Adam Beard; Olly Cracknell, Morgan Morris, Sam Cross
Replacements: Ifan Phillips, Nicky Smith, Alex Jeffries, James Ratti, Guido Volpi, Matthew Aubrey, Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler, Hanno Dirksen
TV: Irish Independent Park, 7:35pm Live on Premier Sports 2, EIR Sport 1, TG4
Referee: Stuart Berry (SARU)
Assistant Referees: Sean Gallagher, Paul Haycock (IRFU)
Citing Commissioner: Wayne Sheridan (IRFU)
TMO: Simon MacDowell (IRFU)
Hooker Rhys Marshall snaffled a brace of tries as a rampant Munster swept aside a much-changed Ospreys to claim their second victory of the new Guinness PRO14 season.
Joey Carbery and Tadhg Beirne made their Munster bows following their summer moves from Leinster and Scarlets respectively – and one of the largest roars of the night heard at Irish Independent Park greeted the former’s impressive debut try.
Early on, Mike Haley bamboozled the visitors’ defensive line as he collected his own chipped kick but Beirne was unable to collect his offload and the hosts were denied an early breakthrough.
Munster would get themselves on the scoreboard with 16 minutes on the clock – working through the gears, the home side rolled forward with a driving maul to win a penalty try, Ospreys’ Giorgi Nemsadze penalised.
Sam Davies bisected the posts from the tee to get the visitors up and running five minutes later but Munster hit back in a flash.
Seizing upon a kick forward from Davies, Carbery took flight and left a raft of opponents trailing in his wake as he announced himself to the Munster faithful in style, the fly-half also converting his own score.
At the other end, Davies calmly slotted away his second penalty of the game but it didn’t take long for Munster to bag their third try of the evening, James Cronin reacting quickest to rumble over at the base of the posts after Chris Cloete had broken with intent, Carbery again adding the extras.
And before the break, Munster scored for a fourth time, a succession of penalties allowing Marshall to power over, Carbery converting.
Johann van Graan’s troops picked up where they left off after half-time, Marshall gobbling up his second try of the game from close-range as the Munster maul got rolling.
The red tide didn’t stop there – in a flash, Peter O’Mahony picking off a loose pass and after weaving run from Darren Sweetnam, Arno Botha stormed over the line for his first Munster try, Carbery converting both tries.
As both teams began to ring the changes, Ospreys were afforded an opportunity to regain their bearings, and just past the hour-mark, former Wales sevens star Luke Morgan took advantage of a defensive slip-up from Munster, tearing away to dot down, Davies booting the extras.
But that only sparked the hosts back into life, Botha teeing up Sweetnam to slice through Ospreys, his arcing run and score converted by Ian Keatley to round things off for Munster.