Video: Will offers Munster a way
Australian Chambers could be the solution to central problem
Published 03/12/2011 | 05:00
OVER the last 12 years, Munster have developed into one of European rugby's premier forces, bringing through a raft of internationals and picking up two Heineken Cups in the process.
They have become one of the most recognised and respected entities in the game and, when outsiders are asked for their impressions of the province, the responses uniformly refer to a fearsome set of forwards and the impact of out-half Ronan O'Gara -- the outstanding individual contributor since Munster's breakthrough in 2000.
Midfield creativity rarely gets a mention, for while Leinster have been blessed with the presence of Brian O'Driscoll in the No 13 jersey over the same period, the outside centre slot is where Munster seem to be continually seeking solutions.
Inside centre has been less of an issue -- Jason Holland, Rob Henderson, Trevor Halstead, Lifeimi Mafi and, on occasion, Jean De Villiers have provided go-forward at 12. It's 13 that has been the problem position.
Mike Mullins filled the role very proficiently for a number of seasons and fellow New Zealander Rua Tipoki was probably the most successful player in the role, leaving a massive void when he left.
While there were hopes that Conrad Smith might bring his cerebral skills to Munster, they never materialised and when an extensive search failed to throw up any high-profile candidates, it was the unheralded Will Chambers who signed on a short-term deal this season.
The Australian benefited from the low expectations that go with relative anonymity and, over the last few weeks, there have been signs that Munster may just found the man they need.
While far from the finished article and sometimes guilty of his execution falling short of initial intent, Chambers definitely has a bit about him, a creative spark that has benefited the players around him.
After a decent cameo against Northampton, Chambers' performance off the bench away to Castres was exhilarating and game-changing, while there were further exhibits of his off-loading ability in the win over Edinburgh last weekend.
He is pushing hard for a starting place when the Heineken Cup resumes with the trip to Llanelli next week and starts this evening's Pro12 clash against the Ospreys next to Danny Barnes. For Chambers, left winger Simon Zebo, loose-head Marcus Horan (who wins his 200th Munster cap), second-row Donncha O'Callaghan and flanker Denis Leamy, this is an ideal opportunity to make their case for Heineken Cup inclusion.
Likewise, Tomas O'Leary, who may be considering a switch to the Top 14 should the right offer be made, but in the meantime, will want to reassert his authority in the No 9 jersey with Conor Murray picked on the bench for this encounter.
The Ospreys are without a host of frontline players through injury and international commitments, but they are a side high on confidence having lost just once in the league this season, while their only home defeat in the last 12 months was to Munster last April.
Tommy Bowe carries obvious threats on the right wing and there is plenty of excitement about the young half-back combination of Matthew Morgan and Rhys Webb. Watching them perform in the win over Connacht last weekend was an enjoyable experience, for these look to be two extremely talented young footballers. Wales is awash with quality scrum-halves at present and Webb looks like the real deal.
Denis Hurley starts at full-back and is in fine form, while Doug Howlett will be looking to add to his try-scoring exploits this season on the far wing from Zebo.
Peter O'Mahony captains the side from No 8, further evidence of his importance to the squad, while Paul O'Connell and Ronan O'Gara are on the bench, ready to limber up for the following weekend.
Munster will be keen to atone for the loss to the Ospreys in round six, and have the side to do that, but there is a bigger picture here and Chambers might just fit the frame.
OSPREYS -- B Davies; T Bowe, A Bishop, A Beck, R Fussell; M Morgan, R Webb; D Jones, R Hibbard, A Jarvis; I Gough, J Thomas; T Smith (capt), J King, J Bearman. Reps: M Davies, C Griffiths, J Rees, G Stowers, S Lewis, T Isaacs, S Parker, H Dirksen.
MUNSTER -- D Hurley; D Howlett, W Chambers, D Barnes, S Zebo; I Keatley, T O'Leary; M Horan, D Varley, BJ Botha; D O'Callaghan, D Ryan; D Leamy, N Ronan, P O'Mahony (capt). Reps: D Fogarty, W du Preez, S Archer, P O'Connell, J Coughlan, C Murray, R O'Gara, J Murphy.
REF -- P Allan (Scotland)
Ospreys v Munster
Live, RTE 2, 6.30