A season defining game is how commentators here in Wales are calling Munster’s clash with Ospreys at the Liberty today as the most expensively assembled squad in the Principality, possibly in Britain, look to keep their hopes of a place in the semi finals alive.
Those hopes hinge on victory today and a win in Aironi next weekend and on Dragons doing them a favour against Ulster and if possible Cardiff Blues.
Ospreys find themselves in this position after losing in Rodney Parade last time out plus the fact that they've only managed eleven wins to date in a competition they won last year, beating Leinster in the RDS final.
Munster are already qualified and could yet play the Ospreys again in the semi-final but they have loads of incentive this evening not least being the awareness that removal of the Ospreys as a possible semi opponent would of course enhance their chances of an appearance in the Grand Final at the end of May.
In once again ringing the changes Tony McGahan illustrates that despite the availability of the likes of Paul O'Connell, Jerry Flannery, Tomas O'Leary, Denis Hurley and Ian Dowling, all Heineken Cup winning medalists, he has great strength in depth in the squad and can for example replace last week's Man of the Match Simon Zebo with All Black legend Doug Howlett and leave the likes of Denis Leamy and Mick O'Driscoll at home to catch their breaths before the considerable tasks that lie ahead.
Everyone talks of the importance of momentum and maintaining form with the Amlin semi-final a week away but there also has to be the added incentive of nailing down a place in the squad for the showpiece matches and there are only a few who can be considered automatic choices at this stage.
The Ospreys include old reliables such as Lee Byrne, Tommy Bowe, James Hook, Marty Holah and Alun Wyn Jones with Ryan Jones, Mike Phillips and Jerry Collins ready to be launched from the bench but also name four uncapped players to freshen things up according to Jonathan Humphreys. “There are some boys who have performed well who we feel deserve a chance in a game like that.” he said.
“We're disappointed with how things went against the Dragons and we believe that these guys can really put a spring in our step for a game that has so much riding on it.”
Ospreys: Lee Byrne; Nikki Walker, Tommy Bowe, James Hook, Richard Fussell; Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb; Ryan Bevington, Richard Hibbard, Adam Jones; Ian Gough, Alun Wyn Jones capt; Justin Tipuric, Marty Holah, Jonathan Thomas. Replacements: Huw Bennett, Paul James, Duncan Jones, Ryan Jones, Jerry Collins, Mike Phillips, Andrew Bishop, Sonny Parker
Munster: Felix Jones; Doug Howlett, Lifeimi Mafi, Paul Warwick, Keith Earls; Ronan O'Gara capt, Conor Murray; Marcus Horan, Damien Varley, John Hayes; Ian Nagle, Donncha O'Callaghan; Donnacha Ryan, David Wallace, James Coughlan. Replacements: Mike Sherry, Wia du Preez, Tony Buckley, Tommy O'Donnell, Niall Ronan, Peter Stringer, Danny Barnes, Simon Zebo.