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Dublin: 11°C Tuesday 20 April 2021
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Munster set to continue winning streak against hapless Ospreys

Johann van Graan’s side have won 10 on the trot against the Ospreys and that sequence will be extended this afternoon.

Jack O'Donoghue (left) is in the form of his life.
Jack O'Donoghue (left) is in the form of his life.

HERE’S A STAT. In the 18 matches involving Irish sides against our Celtic and Italian cousins this season, the results don’t just speak for themselves. They shout.

Sixteen times Leinster, Ulster, Munster or Connacht have won. The only two defeats belong in Connacht’s record book. In a sense, they almost did the competition and Welsh rugby a favour last night when they lost to Scarlets.

Needless to say, Johann van Graan won’t be terribly interested in being as charitable when his Munster side entertain Ospreys today at  Thomond Park (2:45pm, TG4/eir Sport 2).

So far this season they’ve got us off our seat. There was the late drama at the Scarlets, the equally late drama at home to Edinburgh, and then the kind of performance against Cardiff that made you think that finally, at long last, things are beginning to click. Game No4, at the Dragons, also left a positive impression.

You can only imagine how the tone has changed at UL, their training base, the faded memories of all those semi-final defeats replaced by a kind of wonder that these newly arrived kids might kick things along. Last time there was this much excitement about a pair of home grown half-backs was when Stringer and O’Gara appeared on the scene.

The Casey/Healy combo aren’t the only stars shining at the moment. Jack O’Donoghue is in the form of his life and is rewarded for his maturity with the captaincy for today’s game.

craig-casey Casey's form has been excellent this year. Source: Rogan Thomson/INPHO

 ”The fruit of the last few years are paying off,” van Graan said this week. “As has been well documented, we brought our academy to train with our senior team last year during the World Cup (in 2019) and they have continued to train with us.

“A lot of younger players are getting opportunities and they are certainly using the opportunities right across the park, from 1 to 15.

“There have been some good team performances, a long way away from perfect but we would take that start to the season. We are looking to improve our attack right across the board. Some of our defence has been very good but we have leaked one or two tries from set-pieces, against Cardiff a few games ago.”

If that’s a negative, then here is the positive. Given his heavy hitters are away on Ireland duty, the fact he has been able to make five changes to the side and yet make it appear even stronger than the team who featured against Dragons suggests that Munster are finally getting the depth they have been after.

There are four changes in the pack, and the streetwise presence of James Cronin and Stephen Archer may be needed today even if Keynan Knox and Josh Wycherley did a decent job in Newport a couple of weeks back. The energy Fineen Wycherley brings more than compensates for the loss of Billy Holland’s expertise at the line out while Tommy O’Donnell also offers alternative gifts to openside Chris Cloete.

For Ospreys, a change in the front row sees Gareth Thomas, Ifan Phillips and Tom Botha come into the starting line-up, with Dan Lydiate captaining the side as part of an unchanged back row.

Mat Protheroe shifts to full-back – having impressed in his five matches so far this season, scoring two tries, making seven clean breaks and 23 carries. “Ospreys are a good team,” van Graan politely said this week.

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In truth, they’re not. The kindest thing we can say is that they’re better than they were last year. The other thing to note is that Munster have won 10 on the spin against this crowd in all competitions. By tea-time tonight, that streak will have stretched to 11.

Munster

15. Mike Haley
14. Darren Sweetnam
13. Rory Scannell
12. Damian de Allende
11. Matt Gallagher
10. JJ Hanrahan
9. Craig Casey

1. James Cronin
2. Kevin O’Byrne
3. Stephen Archer
4. Jean Kleyn
5. Fineen Wycherley
6. Jack O’Donoghue (Captain)
7. Tommy O’Donnell
8. Gavin Coombes

Replacements:

16. Diarmuid Barron
17. Josh Wycherley
18. John Ryan
19. Billy Holland
20. Jack O’Sullivan
21. Nick McCarthy
22. Ben Healy
23. Dan Goggin

Ospreys

15. Mat Protheroe
14. Luke Morgan
13. Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler
12. Keiran Williams
11. Hanno Dirksen
10. Stephen Myler
9. Shaun Venter

1. Gareth Thomas
2. Ifan Phillips
3. Tom Botha
4. Adam Beard
5. Bradley Davies
6. Will Griffiths
7. Dan Lydiate (Captain)
8. Gareth Evans

 

Replacements:

16. Dewi Lake
17. Rhodri Jones
18. Ma’afu Fia
19. Rhys Davies
20. Olly Cracknell
21. Matthew Aubrey
22. Josh Thomas
23. Scott Williams

Referee: Gianluca Gnecchi (FIR)
Assistant Referees:George Clancy and Robert O’Sullivan (both IRFU)
TMO: Brian McNeice (IRFU)

About the author:

Garry Doyle

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