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Dublin: 8 °C Tuesday 13 November, 2018

'We know we're going in as underdogs': Ospreys have the pedigree to spoil Munster's party

The Wales out-half is relishing a big semi-final occasion at Thomond Park this weekend.

DAN BIGGAR AND Ospreys have been here before.

Since the introduction of the Guinness Pro12 play-offs in 2010, the Welsh side have featured in four semi-finals, three of which have been against Munster. This week is certainly not new territory for them.

Dan Biggar Dan Biggar and Ospreys visit Thomond Park on Saturday evening. Source: Kevin Barnes/INPHO

With a semi-final record of won two, lost two, Ospreys head into this weekend with all the credentials to spoil the Munster party even if the odds are stacked heavily against them.

Munster are red-hot favourites to advance to the Aviva Stadium final later this month and certainly the form book would suggest there will only be one winner; but knock-out rugby is a different ballgame.

Steve Tandy’s men have lost five of their last six games in all competitions, including a 40-17 defeat to Scarlets last time out, and Biggar admits they go in as underdogs having let a home semi-final slip from their grasp in recent weeks.

“We know we’re going in as underdogs,” he said. “We know we’ve been a bit out of sorts but the mood in the camp is pretty good. We’re quietly confident that we can produce a performance and get a positive result.”

With captain Alun Wyn Jones set to return for the first time since March and Biggar shaking off an ankle problem, Ospreys will be fully locked and loaded for Saturday and will bring their own threat to the second of this year’s play-offs.

In 2011 and 2015, the visitors left Thomond Park at the semi-final stage ruing what might have been as they slipped to seven and three point defeats to the southern province and Biggar knows they can’t let the occasion pass them by.

“When we are fully loaded, I think the best way to describe it is, teams would probably like to play someone else,” the out-half continued.

“We know the pedigree we have. We have done well in the semi-finals, albeit at home [wins v Glasgow and Munter in 2010 and 2012].

“We’re confident amongst ourselves. We have a good record in Ireland where ever we have played. It’s just about not being overawed by the occasion on Saturday. We know challenge that presents us so we have to be on the money and fronting up at set-pieces, because that’s where they are going to have a fair bit of strength.”

Steve Tandy Ospreys coach Steve Tandy. Source: Kevin Barnes/INPHO

Munster’s home form has been one of the cornerstones of their success this season and Biggar, who will tour with the Lions this summer, knows exactly what to expect come 6.15pm on Saturday evening.

Rassie Erasmus’ men have lost just three times in the Pro12 all season, and just once at Thomond Park, but Ospreys’ record against this weekend’s opponents is pretty good.

There have been three wins apiece and one draw in the last seven meetings between the sides in Limerick and Cork and Biggar understands the importance of a fast start.

“We know what Thomond Park is like,” he added. “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.”

One of the key areas on Saturday will be the battle of the half-backs as Biggar and Rhys Webb come up against fellow Lion Conor Murray and Munster’s player of the season Tyler Bleyendaal.

It promises to be a fascinating match-up, and Biggar is fully aware if he and Webb can come out on top, their side will have a great chance of leaving Thomond Park with the spoils.

Robin Copeland is tackled by Joe Bearman Munster won the two regular season games between the sides. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“Conor has been outstanding for the last four of five years. His level of consistency is exceptional,” the Welsh 10 said.

“To be honest, not a an awful lot was known about Tyler before he came over to Munster. This year he has really stepped up.

“That just shows how important he’s been. There was a little bit at the start ‘ Who are they going to play 10?’ and swapping and changing a bit. But his level of performance has made it an easy call for Munster staff.

“He hasn’t done anything hugely flash, he just manages to bring that team together, obviously along with Conor’s experience.

“Myself and Rhys are obviously aware that we are up against two very good operators. Especially at Thomond Park, where they know the ground and the conditions.

“We’re not trying to make it a half-back battle or Rhys against Conor or me and Tyler. It’s looking to try and make sure we gain some control for our team in that area which obviously helps enormously. But yeah, they are two fabulous players but again, me and Rhys will be looking to get control for our team rather than let Conor and Tyler dictate the play as much as possible for Munster.”

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Ryan Bailey

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