Date: 11th May 2012
Referee: Alain Rolland
Venue: Liberty Stadium
When Shane Williams appeared to say goodbye to his home ground last month, the possibility of the Ospreys picking up a home semi-final was far from certain. Yet now here they are, a late surge of form with the return of their Wales internationals seeing the Ospreys produce a run of five consecutive victories, including a one point win over Leinster at the RDS. With Dan Biggar in fine form and the likes of Ryan Jones, Alun Wyn Jones, Adam Jones and Justin Tipuric all set to start against Munster, their chances look good.
The Red Army received the worst possible news earlier this week when Paul O’Connell was ruled out for 4-6 weeks with a knee injury. Losing their leader is a blow, putting the pressure on Donnacha O’Callaghan and Mick O’Driscoll to fill his boots. Munster will be led on Friday night by the hugely impressive Peter O’Mahony at number 8, with the onus on their pack to repel the Ospreys enough to give Ian Keatley free reign at fly-half. With Simon Zebo, Keith Earls and Felix Jones all floating around the back line, Munster have the firepower.
What to Expect:
Given Friday is expected to be clear in Swansea, there should be no excuses to not see running rugby. Retaining possession will be crucial for both sides to construct attacking plays, so the prospect of Tipuric up against O’Mahony on the floor will be worth keeping an eye on. Starting Keatley gives the impression that Munster will play with a bit more freedom than with Ronan O’Gara pulling the strings, whilst the Ospreys will look for inside centre Ashley Beck to stretch the Munster midfield.
Head to Head: Kahn Fotuali’i & Conor Murray
When the pressure ratchets up, you need your scrum-half to be on top of his game. Fotuali’i has started slowly in Wales but his talent is without question, as anyone who has seen him turn out for the Crusaders and Samoa will testify. Whilst a perfectly adept passer of the ball, Fotuali’i’s best asset is the way he can make breaks out of nothing, with searing pace enough to get the Ospreys far behind the game line. Under the pressure of a semi-final, something he is no stranger to after multiple occasions with the Crusaders, he could excel.
How Conor Murray copes under intense pressure is one of the more common discussions right now in Irish rugby, with the young pretender beginning to develop into a world class scrum-half. The speed of his pass has been an area of persistent comment though, so expect Tipuric and R. Jones to siege him constantly at the breakdown.
One to Watch: Hanno Dirksen & Keith Earls
Two speedsters capable of the spectacular. South African born Dirksen has made waves in the RaboDirect Pro12 this season with Tommy Bowe absent on the right wing, scoring 7 tries in all competitions and picking up the Try of the Season award at last weekend’s RaboDirect Pro12 Awards. Earls return on the other hand could not have been timed better, with the Ireland international’s partnership with Lifeimi Mafi essential to any Munster success.
Not easy. Home advantage should dictate but if it gets to 65 minutes with Munster in the game and bringing Ronan O’Gara off the bench, we know the story. The Ospreys have to strike and do so early and not be afraid to spread the ball wide and take the game to Munster. Ospreys by 3
by Ben Coles