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Dublin: 13 °C Tuesday 14 July, 2020
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Out-of-sorts Ospreys mean Munster have chance for perfect start in Europe

Johann van Graan’s side must not miss their opportunity to begin with a win in Swansea.

JUST AS MUNSTER must not complicate matters at Liberty Stadium this evening, let’s not beat around the bush.

Johann van Graan’s side should be good enough to secure a bonus-point win in Swansea to kick off their Pool 4 campaign in the Heineken Champions Cup in the perfect manner.

john-ryan-james-cronin-jean-kleyn-and-chris-farrell-celebrate-cj-stander-scoring-the-first-try-of-the-game Munster are coming off the back of a win against Ulster. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

With battles against Saracens and Racing lying ahead, the southern province must take the opportunity presented to them against the Ospreys today [KO 5.30pm, BT Sport].

Allen Clarke’s side are in miserable form, having lost five of their six Pro14 games so far this season, and with Wales internationals Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric, George North, Adam Beard, and Owen Watkin all missing today, they are fielding a team that Munster should beat well if they have European knock-out ambitions.

In contrast to the Ospreys’ weakened status, Munster boss van Graan has been able to welcome Ireland internationals Keith Earls and Conor Murray back into his starting XV, joining fellow World Cup travellers in captain Peter O’Mahony, Jean Kleyn, Andrew Conway, CJ Stander, Niall Scannell, John Ryan, and Chris Farrell – who all started in last weekend’s Pro14 win over Ulster at Thomond Park.

Dave Kilcoyne, sidelined with a calf issue, is missing but Munster have also welcomed Tadhg Beirne back into their matchday squad, the impactful second row primed to come off the bench in Swansea.

Munster have had injury woes at out-half with Joey Carbery and JJ Hanrahan both sidelined with injury problems but 29-year-old Tyler Bleyendaal is more than experienced and skilful enough to guide them to success in this European opener, particularly after a sharp performance off the bench against Ulster.

There are likely to be some cohesion issues for Munster as they continue to reintegrate everyone after the World Cup but the difference in quality on paper is hard to ignore, especially when we consider how poor the Ospreys have been early this season.

Their five defeats have included a 28-12 bonus-point loss to Munster in Cork just three weeks ago.

ospreys-players-dejected-after-conceding-a-try Munster beat the Ospreys in the Pro14 three weeks ago. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Munster, on the other hand, have won five of their six fixtures so far and shown some promising hints of attacking progress under new senior coach Stephen Larkham. Scrum specialist Graham Rowntree is now on board too and will be keen for his pack to shore up the scrum failings of last weekend versus Ulster.

Ignoring the headline names, Munster have an in-form fullback in Mike Haley and a fired-up inside centre in Rory Scannell, who knows he needs a big season ahead of the arrival of Springboks midfielder Damian de Allende in 2020.

Billy Holland has the nous to run a smart lineout for Munster, while Tommy O’Donnell is another with a point to prove after missing out on the World Cup.

Meanwhile, it’s a big day for 24-year-old Jeremy Loughman in the absence of Kilcoyne. The former Athy RFC and Leinster man is set for his first Champions Cup start but should benefit from the know-how around him.

There is a degree of concern for Munster in not having a recognised out-half to cover any injury to Bleyendaal, but Scannell and Murray have both played in the position before and could probably do a solid job as stop-gap solutions.

Munster can’t, of course, completely dismiss what the Ospreys have to offer, with a couple of quality players like centre Scott Williams as well as a trio of World Cup returnees on the bench in the shape of Nicky Smith, Aled Davies, and Bradley Davies.

But a convincing win on the road would be an ideal start for van Graan’s men with more demanding challenges ahead of them in Racing’s visit to Thomond Park next weekend and then back-to-back ties with reigning champions Saracens in December.

conor-murray-celebrates-after-the-game Conor Murray is back in Munster's starting team. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The Irish province would dearly love to be at home on their couches with the feet up and five points in the bag on Sunday by the time Racing and Saracens kick-off their own opening tie in Paris [KO 3.15pm Irish time, BT Sport].

Beyond this weekend, Munster have strong ambitions to get beyond the semi-final stages of this competition and have a crack at adding to their history in Europe but for now, the focus is on beginning with a bang against the Ospreys.

Missing this opportunity could be damaging.

Ospreys:

15. Cai Evans
14. Hanno Dirksen
13. Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler
12. Scott Williams
11. Tom Williams
10. Luke Price
9. Shaun Venter

1. Rhodri Jones
2. Scott Otten
3. Ma’afu Fia
4. Marvin Orie
5. Lloyd Ashley
6. Dan Lydiate (captain)
7. Olly Cracknell
8. Morgan Morris

Replacements:

16. Ifan Phillips
17. Nicky Smith
18. Gheorghe Gajion
19. Bradley Davies
20. Sam Cross
21. Aled Davies
22. James Hook
23. Kieran Williams 

Munster:

15. Mike Haley
14. Andrew Conway
13. Chris Farrell
12. Rory Scannell
11. Keith Earls
10. Tyler Bleyendaal
9. Conor Murray

1. Jeremy Loughman
2. Niall Scannell
3. John Ryan
4. Jean Kleyn
5. Billy Holland
6. Peter O’Mahony (captain)
7. Tommy O’Donnell
8. CJ Stander

Replacements:

16. Kevin O’Byrne
17. James Cronin
18. Stephen Archer
19. Tadhg Beirne
20. Arno Botha
21. Alby Mathewson
22. Sammy Arnold
23. Dan Goggin  

Referee: Karl Dickson [England]. 

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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