Ospreys vs. Munster @ Liberty Stadium
Fri 11th May, 19.35 (RTE2)
Munster beat the Ospreys at this stage last season, with Danny Barnes scoring a brace. (c) Ivan O’Riordan.
It’s 2nd versus 3rd in the first of the PRO12 semi-finals tonight. Munster will be desperate to advance in the hope of salvaging something from this campaign, but they face a tough task in Swansea. The Ospreys have been impressive all season in this competition and come into the game on a 5-game winning streak which started with their 23-22 victory over Leinster at the RDS in March.
Ronan O’Gara returns to the Munster bench, meaning Ian Keatley is back in at outhalf. This is a huge game for the ex-Connacht and Leinster man. After a strong start to the season, his form has tailed off and he needs to show that he is ROG’s long-term successor. The rest of the Munster team is as expected, with Keith Earls back at outside centre and keen to show Rob Penney that 13 is his best position. Ivan Dineen comes onto the wing due to a late Felix Jones injury, with Johne Murphy moving to fullback. Dave Kilcoyne is on the bench following his promising recent form.
Up front, the knee injury to Paul O’Connell means Mick O’Driscoll gets another outing before retirement. With James Coughlan still out with a hand injury, Peter O’Mahony continues at No.8. Without O’Gara and O’Connell, Munster haven’t looked the same side this season, so it’s crucial that the likes of Mafi, O’Driscoll, O’Callaghan and Botha step up to the leadership mark.
Mafi will be out to ensure this isn’t his final game for Munster. (c) Ivan O’Riordan.
The Ospreys side is largely as predicted, with Dan Biggar set to steer the ship at 10. Interestingly, coach Steve Tandy has gone for Kahn Fotuali’i at scrumhalf rather than the talented youngster Rhys Webb, who is likely to have an impact off the bench. The centre partnership of Ashley Beck and Andrew Bishop has been effective for the Ospreys this year, with 22-year-old Beck looking to earn a place on Wales’ summer tour to Australia.
Up front, the Ospreys are highly experienced. The front-row of Paul James, Richard Hibbard and Adam Jones have been around the block once or twice and will be confident of scrum dominance. Behind them, Joe Beardman is the only of the five who is not a Welsh international. Openside flanker Justin Tipuric has had a fantastic season, showing that Wales have depth behind Sam Warburton.
It’s a strong, solid, grizzled Ospreys team who have been doing the business all season. The Welsh side have lost only 3 of their 17 home fixtures, and they’ve already beaten Munster home and away. With the likes of Mafi, O’Driscoll and coach Tony McGahan all set to leave Munster, the province will be keen not to end their season on a losing note. However, the Ospreys appear to have too much. Verdict: Ospreys.
Leinster vs. Warriors @ The RDS
Sat 12th May, 19.35 (TG4)
Leinster’s record vs. the Warriors this season is P4, W2, D1, L1. (c) Ken Bohane.
Joe Schmidt will be ignoring the unfounded speculation of a return to New Zealand as Leinster look to stay on course for an historic double. They host the Glasgow Warriors is the second semi-final on Saturday night. The Scottish side confirmed 4th place with a 24-3 win over a disappointing Connacht last weekend. Regardless of the teams Sean Lineen and Schmidt pick (as yet neither side has been revealed), Leinster should have too much quality to be overcome by the Warriors.
The Scottish side have obviously been doing something right to find themselves at this stage of the competition. Lineen has built a solid, unspectacular outfit who are difficult to break down. They have obvious limitations in attack, highlighted by the fact that they have only bettered 3 other teams in terms of tries scored in the PRO12. The main attacking spark they possess is Stuart Hogg at fullback.
The 19-year-old Scottish international has lightening quick feet and pace to burn so Leinster will need to watch him closely. Duncan Weir has been given the nod over Ruaridh Jackson at outhalf. Weir offers more solidity in the 10 jersey, as well as a reliable boot, but expect to see the creative Jackson off the bench if the Warriors have to chase the game. Lineen’s backline really won’t strike fear into the Leinster squad. Big Graeme Morrison at 12 will look to put dents in the Irish side’s defence but is limited.
Richie Gray will be a danger to Leinster’s lineout. (c) Ken Bohane.
Up front, Richie Gray and Ally Kellock form a complete second-row, which will cause problems for Leinster at the lineout in particular. At No.8 John Barclay has ball-carrying ability, but his form has been patchy this season. For Leinster, the only real surprise is that Eoin O’Malley starts at 13. This season’s PRO12 stalwarts in Devin Toner and Dave Kearney have earned their right to start. Fergus McFadden and Dave Kearney are in competition for a H-Cup final spot so expect big efforts from both
Schmidt has picked a team that’s close to full strength, in what doubles up as a test run for the Heineken Cup final. It would be foolish to completely write off the Warriors. Despite the two wins for Leinster in Pool 3 of the Heineken Cup, the Warriors beat Schimdt’s side at The RDS in September and Leinster could only manage a draw in Firhill in February. However, Leinster should be close to full strength and the Warriors cannot match that quality. Verdict: Leinster.
Photos courtesy: Ivan O’Riordan, Ken Bohane.