Sunday 17 December 2017

Hook and Ospreys hope to pack their baggage


James Hook has a vision of how the New Year might look. Specifically February. That's when he has to make a decision on where he will be playing his rugby next season.

So when the time rolls around he wants to be sure that he's going to the right French club, and not only that it pads out his pockets suitably with cash, but that the set-up will suit his fiancée and child. And that by then the Ospreys will be safely tucked away in the knockout stages of the Heineken Cup.

"That would be outstanding," he says. "It's my last season with the Ospreys for a while so I'm chomping at the bit to get to the quarter-finals -- as is everyone else here. I fancy a change for a couple of years and to experience a new environment and I feel blessed that there are a few clubs who want me. But this is a massive season for us at the Ospreys. And it all starts again on Sunday."

No side in Wales has had as much psychoanalysis as the Ospreys. Indeed they are perceived as the polar opposite of Munster, who don't lie on the couch for anyone. If the twice-crowned champions of Europe have no issues about their mental strength then the Ospreys need assistance with their baggage. At least that was the perception.

With three titles they are the top team in the nine-year history of Celtic rugby. And the manner of last season's success, with a series of hard-edged finishes away from home, has improved their image as a team with the right stuff.

That came on the back of a performance in the quarter-final of the Heineken Cup, away to Biarritz, which saw them play their best rugby in the seven seasons since the region was established. It was their third straight quarter-final. So, is deliverance at hand?

"Having got to the quarter-finals a few times now we have to kick on," Hook says. "I know, we seem to be saying the same thing every year but these two games against Munster are massive for us. And we're getting closer to one of those massive wins away.

"A couple of years ago we were narrowly beaten by Perpignan over there and then it was close in Toulon this season. To get that win over Munster would give us that belief -- well, we know we can beat them, we just have to go out there and do it."

Maybe not this time.

Munster: P Warwick; D Howlett, K Earls, S Tuitupou, J Murphy; R O'Gara, T O'Leary; W du Preez, D Varley, T Buckley, D O'Callaghan, M O'Driscoll, J Coughlan, D Wallace, D Leamy (capt). Replacements: M Sherry, D Hurley, J Hayes, P O'Connell, A Quinlan, P Stringer, L Mafi, D Hurley.

Ospreys: B Davies; T Bowe, A Bishop, J Hook, R Fussell; D Biggar, M Phillips; P James, R Hibbard, A Jones, R Jones, A Jones (capt), J Collins, M Holah*, J Thomas. Replacements: M Davies, D Jones, C Mitchell, I Gough, J Tipuric, J Nutbrown, S Parker, N Walker.

(*Marty Holah has been named at No 7 pending the outcome of his appeal hearing. If he is not available to play, Justin Tipuric will start and his place at No 20 on the bench will go to Tom Smith.)

Referee: C Berdos (Fra)

Munster v Ospreys,

Sky Sports 1, 1.0

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