Ospreys test a milestone for favourite son Quinlan
MUNSTER square off against the title-holding Ospreys at Thomond Park tonight (8.0) determined to continue their 100pc start to the Magners League.
As Tony McGahan's side feel their way into the season, their victories over Aironi and Edinburgh were founded on a solid scrum and pragmatic play in possession, but the Ospreys, who did the double over Munster last season, represent a step up in class.
The Welsh team is a potent combination of Grand Slam-winners, Lions and All Blacks and their back-row of Jerry Collins, Marty Holah and No 8 Jonathan Thomas is a mixture, of pace, nous and raw aggression. Which makes their showdown with Munster's in-form trio of Alan Quinlan, Niall Ronan and captain Denis Leamy all the more compelling.
Quinlan makes his 200th senior appearance for the province tonight -- a remarkable achievement given the rate of attrition in the modern game. Fifteen years at the top speaks volumes for the Tipperary man's dedication and standards of performance and it is fitting that he goes up against an opponent of Collins' calibre for this landmark occasion.
McGahan makes one change to the backline, bringing in Tomas O'Leary for Peter Stringer and rotates his front-row, offering Marcus Horan, John Hayes and Denis Fogarty the chance to build on the good work done by Wian Du Preez, Tony Buckley and Damien Varley who drop to the bench.
With Paul O'Connell on the long-term injury list, McGahan is fortunate with the quality of second-rows he has at his disposal. Tonight Donnacha Ryan packs down in the engine room next to Donncha O'Callaghan and last weekend against Edinburgh, Ryan showed how effective he can be in his natural position.
Over the past few seasons, Munster's strength at second-row and need for back-row options has seen Ryan employed at blindside flanker, where his athleticism and physicality have been put to good use.
However, the Nenagh man, looking fresh and focused after recovering from the dislocated shoulder injury he sustained last February, is the prototype of the modern second-row and good enough in that position to force his way into Ireland's plans for the November internationals and Six Nations.
"I was very disappointed when it (the injury) happened," said Ryan. "For a while I was down in the dumps. I was not able to lift my arm, not able to tie my shoelaces or button my shirt and it was small wins every day, climbing the wall like the incy wincy spider. Very frustrating.
"I've no preference (position-wise), when you have the quality of lock we have ... I had to re-invent myself. I've played more games for Munster in the back-row than in the second-row, but so long as I'm involved, I'll be over the moon."
Ryan faces a stern examination of his second-row credentials tonight against Ospreys captain and 2009 Lion Alun Wyn Jones and front-five solidity is essential for the home team, particularly given the Ospreys' seasoned front-row of Paul James, Mefin Davies and Craig Mitchell.
Dan Biggar is Wales' coming man at out-half and outside him there is a backline line packed with attacking potential -- including Tommy Bowe in the centre -- and there will have been a strong focus on Munster's defence this week.
Munster look to have the stronger bench with front-row power and the experience of Stringer and Ronan O'Gara to call on, although the Ospreys have the Jones boys to bolster their scrum as the game wears on. The Ospreys are up for this one, anxious to atone for their opening loss in Ulster and reinforce their status as champions
"There are some games that you get up for a lot more than others and this is one that stands out on the calendar," said full-back Lee Byrne.
It should make for a memorable occasion and it's a big night for Tipperary, with Quinlan set to be deservedly and raucously received by the Thomond Park supporters and Ryan ready to announce himself to a wider audience with a powerful showing against top class opposition.
The Ospreys are a serious proposition, but Munster have momentum and it could just be enough to squeeze them home.
MUNSTER -- F Jones; D Howlett, J Murphy, S Tuitupou, I Dowling; P Warwick, T O'Leary; M Horan, D Fogarty, J Hayes; D O'Callaghan, D Ryan; A Quinlan, N Ronan, D Leamy (capt). Reps: D Varley, W du Preez, T Buckley, B Holland, P O'Mahony, P Stringer, R O'Gara, D Barnes.
OSPREYS -- L Byrne; N Walker, T Bowe, A Bishop, S Williams; D Biggar, J Nutbrown; P James, M Davies, C Mitchell; AW Jones (capt), I Evans; J Collins, M Holah, J Thomas. Reps: R Hibbard, D Jones, A Jones, I Gough, B Lewis, R Webb, G Owen, R Fussell.
REF -- N Paterson (Scotland)
Munster v Ospreys
Live, RTE 2, 8.0