Sunday 20 October 2019

Fourth straight away win in prospect against weakened Ospreys searching for form

Chris Cloete. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Chris Cloete. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

David Wallace

Already Munster have opened up a 15-point gap back to Ospreys in fourth place in the Conference A table, but a win tonight would go a long way towards a play-off spot with just six games to go.

Traditionally, Liberty Stadium has been a hard place for away teams to thrive in, and Ospreys have only lost one PRO14 game there this season. Last week they slipped up in Bridgend against Ulster where they failed to score and with their squad tested due to the Six Nations, I see this as a chance for Munster to win there for the fourth season in a row.

Last time out Munster were impressive winners at Irish Independent Park against Southern Kings, but despite the big win you could see there was a bit of rustiness there in the first half. The conditions were really bad, and in fairness to Kings, they disrupted a lot of ball too. It could have been far worse for them in the first half had they not stayed in the fight.


But Munster really took control after half-time. The introduction of Alby Mathewson added speed to the ball and it really caught their defence unaware. It was a good display from the forwards as well where the likes of Jean Kleyn, Arno Botha and Chris Cloete laid down gritty performances.

Niall Scannell and Andrew Conway also looked very sharp considering they hadn't played in a while. Billy Holland got a good try and he is one guy that has been in excellent form of late.

To be fair, Kings were a bit off the pace, but it was staggering to hear that Munster didn't concede a single penalty in that game. I really felt sorry for the Kings with the officials being a little bit hard on them. The first sin-binning was very harsh, but on the other side of it, they stepped across the line with a few high tackles.

I honestly can't recall another game at any level where a side wasn't penalised at least once - certainly I don't think I ever played in one anyway. All season long teams strive to be in the single digits for penalties, and although the pressure may have been a bit less than usual, it's still a phenomenal show of discipline that they can aspire to for the rest of the season.

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For Munster, it's on to Ospreys now, and they are side that's struggling to find a win. Ospreys have lost four in a row, and in their last two games they have only accumulated three points on the scoreboard.

I think Ospreys are there for the taking. While Munster's away form has not been perfect they have improved of late with three straight victories on the road. I suspect Munster's squad depth, experience and confidence will see them to victory.

While tonight is all about the PRO14, Sunday is very much a Six Nations day with Ireland on duty in Rome. The win in Scotland has eased the pressure somewhat and I think we'll see a few more players handed starts this time round, although it will be far from wholesale changes in my opinion.

The likes of Dave Kilcoyne might get a chance and maybe we'll even see an entire Munster front-row at some stage with Niall Scannell and John Ryan in contention too. They were very impressive as a unit against Argentina and have done the same for Munster this year.

This game is all about the preparation for the World Cup. With all due respect to Italy, Ireland should win this game - maybe with a bonus point.

The pressure of chasing the Grand Slam is gone though, so there is a small bit of freedom there for Ireland to experiment.

Hopefully Joe Schmidt will see this game as a chance to run his eye over players who might be there or thereabouts for a 31-man squad. A good performance will still be needed to win and the fact that Ireland are not out of the running yet might see a stronger team than first expected.

Jack Carty's good form for Connacht has created an interesting dynamic in the battle for game-time in the No 10 shirt. He is definitely third in the pecking order, and I'm sure Johnny Sexton and Joey Carbery will not be keen to take a back seat - assuming they are both fit and well.

Iain Henderson will be delighted to get game-time under his belt last weekend, while Ultan Dillane was outstanding for Connacht against Cheetahs too. There are plenty of options there despite the injuries.

This will be a really interesting Irish team announcement and I expect there to be a major shock or two, but hopefully we get no surprise results in Swansea or Rome this weekend.

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