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Saturday Semi Final Showdown Awaits

17th May 2017 By The Editor

Peter O'Mahony on the attack against Ospreys this season.

Peter O'Mahony on the attack against Ospreys this season. ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan

This Saturday marks a repeat of the 2015 Guinness PRO12 semi final when, were it not for the astuteness of referee Nigel Owens, Ospreys, and more specifically Josh Matavesi, would have broken the hearts of Munster fans and created history in the process.

This Saturday marks a repeat of the 2015 Guinness PRO12 semi final when, were it not for the astuteness of referee Nigel Owens, Ospreys, and more specifically Josh Matavesi, would have broken the hearts of Munster fans and created history in the process.

With 79 minutes on the clock, Munster were very much in danger of becoming the first side in the competition to lose a home semi final, Matavesi’s try putting Ospreys two points up after Munster had at one stage led by 13 points.  But history would not be rewritten on the day, TMO footage confirming Owen’s suspicions that Rhys Webb had knocked on in the build-up and Munster progressed.

Fast forward two years and Munster know that Ospreys remain just as big a threat, and with the exploits of 2015 still strong in the memory, most of those taking to the field on Saturday will know first-hand what to expect from the opposition.

Ospreys’ pedigree in this competition is unquestioned and will travel to Ireland with little fear.  Not once, but twice, they overcame the odds to claim the title on Irish soil, defeating Leinster in 2010 and 2012 – a time when Leinster were in their pomp and the dominant force in Europe.

After enduring a couple of tough years by their own high standards, Munster’s current group of players have grown and developed into a force to be reckoned with, building on the foundations of previous seasons and thriving under stewardship of Rassie Erasmus and his coaching team, while also reaping the benefits of the new High Performance Centre in UL.  Having finished out the regular season as table toppers, Munster also secured the highest points ever for any club after 22 rounds – 86 points – and boasted the best defence throughout the Championship.

However, Erasmus’ men have also had some harsh learnings, coughing up a 21-6 interval lead to lose to Scarlets in Thomond Park in February, while at the Aviva Stadium last month, Saracens halted their storming European run with a 26-10 defeat in the Champions Cup semi final.

The latter in particular has rankled but, if nothing else, it provides both motivation and valuable experience heading into this weekend’s game with winger Andrew Conway commenting, “At the start of the year, I would have bitten your hand off to have the season we’ve had.

“But once you get there, you get greedy and you look for something else, a PRO12 trophy or whatever comes with that after.

“If we get knocked out in two semis, it’s going to feel like a failure.”

Ospreys will be a far cry from the side that endured a 33-0 defeat at Irish Independent Park in November.  Instead, a more accurate litmus test was the return fixture at the Liberty Stadium in February, one that required a late Dave Kilcoyne try to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

Speaking in the aftermath of Munster’s round 22 win over Connacht – a result that confirmed Ospreys as the province’s semi final opponents – Erasmus drew comparisons between the Welshmen and the reigning champions, describing them as ‘likely to play from everywhere’, sentiments that were echoed by CJ Stander this week.

“They like to attack, and attack from anywhere. Your defence needs to be on par.  If you give them the ball unnecessarily, they’re going to punish you.

“Thomond Park has always been a special place; it’s even more special when you get out there for a semi-final. We’re in a better place than we were last year. Last year we were playing for sixth place and scraping in. Hopefully we can give the fans something back and give Thomond Park something back.

“There are a lot of guys who want to write history, especially myself. I’ve never won anything in a senior team. We’ve got a chance now.”

As his CV suggests, Ospreys, Wales and Lions out half Dan Biggar will be central to Ospreys’ ambitions in Limerick where he hopes not to fear, but feed off the Thomond Park atmosphere.

“We know what Thomond Park is like. We know how passionate the crowd are and how good the place is. To be honest, if we were to play anywhere in the semi-final, in terms of getting an atmosphere and be part of an occasion, there are very few places in Europe better than Thomond Park on a big match day.

“We’re looking forward to the challenge and not looking at it as a daunting task. It will be great to be a part of what Thomond Park represents on a big rugby weekend. I don’t think that’s an issue for us.

“We can take confidence from winning big games away from home in Ireland, in tough places likes the RDS and Thomond Park.  We won games in both of those stadiums. That will give us plenty of confidence.”

Munster v Ospreys, Guinness PRO12 semi final, Saturday May 20 at Thomond Park, ko 6.15pm.

Tickets can be purchased online here, from the Munster Rugby Ticket Offices or by calling 061 421103.

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