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Ospreys determined to cause Thomond surprise

TWO Irish provinces, two Welsh regions, home advantage to the green corner and the bookies are drawn considerably in the direcion of an All-Ireland Guinness PRO12 Championship final in the Aviva Stadium on May 27. Any Leinster v Munster game gets the mouth watering and when there is silverware to add to the bragging rights, the stakes go up considerably. Firstly, the auld enemies have to dispose of the Scarlets and the Ospreys respectively and neither task is going to be easy.
I have always considered it worse to lose a semi-final than a final. It is that feeling of failure that hits you when you are on the losing side of the last four that hurts and Munster will certainly not want to add another semi knock-out to their Champions Cup defeat to Saracens at the penultimate stage. Head coach Rassie Erasmus spoke this week about his concerns that some of his players may not have sufficient match fitness. He has, he said, to get the team selection ‘spon-on’ but he will be pleased that the half-back partnership of Tyler Bleyendaal and Conor Murray appears to be back on track. He will also have key men such as Peter O’Mahony and CJ Stander starting.
“The expectation is there obviously because we have home advantage but the Ospreys will be at full strength on Saturday so our focus and preparation are crucial. We will have to replicate the performance we put in against Toulouse a couple of weeks ago,” the director of rugby told us.
This will be the third time that Munster will have met the Ospreys in the semi-final of the Guinness PRO12 and they will be looking to Alun Wyn Jones, Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb and Justin Tipuric to help carve out what would be a surprise victory in Limerick. The Welsh side have had a frustrating season, losing out on a place in the top two and home venue for the semi-finals but their hooker Scott Balrwin insists that there is a positive mood in the camp:
“It’s been really disappointing over the last month of the season but we can’t dwell on that. Thankfully, what we’ve done over the course of 22 games means we are in the play-offs and we’ve got a tough game in front of us this weekend. Knock-out rugby is just that. It’s a one-off game that we can look forward to it. Form goes out of the window, we’ve had a week to freshen up and refocus before stepping up now as the game gets closer.
Munster will be fully aware of the threat that Dan Biggar can bring to this game and the battle of Lions Conor Murray and Rhys Webb should also add to the occasion. It might be close but it would be a shattering blow to Munster if they were deprived of that final appearance at the end of a season that had all the twists and turns of a tv drama.
The odds are stacked in favour of the home side but Scott Baldwin remains optimistic that the Ospreys can get the victory: “Munster have lost just three times in the Guinness PRO12 Championship this season and Thomond Park is up there with the toughest places to go in Europe, so we know the size of the challenge. It’s not about rocking up on a Saturday afternoon thinking we can win the game, it all started well before that in training. We are not going into the unknown, we know what’s in store for us and there are plenty of players in our squad who have won out in Munster. We also know we can do it, regardless of what has happened with results and performances of late. We know that unless we are at our best, we will be in for a long and difficult night.”

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