This week’s Focus Friday looks at Munster’s crucial clash with the Ospreys on Saturday in the Pro12.
Munster have had a tumultuous start to the 2014/15 Pro12 season. A leaked email circulating before the season began, an upset at home to Edinburgh in their opening game, the Irish province have also seen their injury list expand.
This weekend they’ll host the Ospreys in Thomond Park, the Welsh side are currently sitting on top of the Pro12 table and will pose a big challenge for Anthony Foley & co.
Ospreys have started the season in brilliant form, picking up three wins against Treviso, Edinburgh, and the Dragons. With two bonus points already in their repertoire, their crushing of an Edinburgh side that beat Munster outlines their intent and danger as they visit Limerick Saturday evening.
Munster offered a lacklustre display against Edinburgh in their opening fixture, yet they’ve showed signs of settling back into their game plan. Last week they dismantled Zebre in Thomond Park, with Simon Zebo setting Limerick alight with his first half hat trick. Munster have had it tough thus far, and to gain a win like that in front of their home crowd will be a huge confidence boost for players, management, and fans alike.
Anthony Foley has called on the Thomond Park faithful to come and support their team in full voice, turning the Limerick stadium back into the fortress it once was. This is not the first time Foley has attempted to rally the troops, and it is an area he has placed an emphasis on. It does beg the question, does Thomond Park still have that influential impact on its visitors?
Before their win against Zebre, Munster lost their last three games in Thomond Park, coming up short to Edinburgh, Ulster and Glasgow. This is a far cry from the frightening cauldron of noise and passion that Thomond Park has epitomised over recent years, and Munster need their red army back in their corner as they look to get back to their stride. A home game on the same weekend as the All Ireland final replay will have an impact on ticket sales, yet Foley will hope that his legions will have answered his call.
Munster have had an unlucky time with injuries thus far. Keith Earls, Gerhard van den Heever, Donnacha Ryan, Peter O’Mahony, are but a few of the players currently sidelined. Foley’s squad and resources have been stretched far and wide in the last few weeks, far from ideal for the new coach.
Injuries aside, Munster still have a talented nucleus at their disposal. Simon Zebo continues to prove his worth as an out and out try scorer, continually pushing for further international honours. CJ Stander is the other standout performer thus far – the South African backrow has been immense in Munster’s early fixtures. Bolstered by the returns of Paul O’Connell and Conor Murray, Munster can now look forward to playing with their two most influential assets.
Saturday against the Ospreys will be a tough test for the Celtic province. The Ospreys in this form can be devastating, and Irish spectators know too well how difficult the Welsh side can be to beat.
Munster need a big win to lift the squad, and this clash gives them an opportunity to do so. They desperately need this win to boost the squad and really kickstart their season. They’ll have Murray and O’Connell back with Zebo and Stander. Ian Keatley will likely return to slot in at ten, as Keatley still offers a more rounded game then the incredibly promising JJ Hanrahan, who will no doubt play his own part. O’Donnell, Botha, an exciting back three, Munster’s side looks more dangerous. This is as full strength as Munster have been this season, and this should be noticeable come game time.
Much has been said of Munster of the last few years, as they’ve been in somewhat of a transition period. As with every great side, time comes to move on, and that’s what Munster have faced over the last 6 seasons or so. They’ve had to part with not only some of the biggest legends to don the red of Munster, but to don the green of Ireland. A testing time for any side, Munster are still climbing out of that transition.
Munster played a different game under Rob Penney. An expansive based attack that contrasted the traditional Munster game plan of old, Munster want to go ‘back to basics’. Under Anthony Foley Munster will look to reinstate their old ethos, hone their physicality, and bring back that the dogged edge that made them such a formidable side in the early 00s.
With any new coach it takes time. Time to settle, time to adjust and time to perform. Munster will grow and develop with Foley at the helm, the former number 8 is a shrewd operator.
Saturday’s clash against the Ospreys will be a difficult game, and is maybe too early in the season for Munster. In saying that, Munster have something to prove, and this game will be a real test of character. The one thing you never want to do is bet against Munster, especially when their backs are against the wall.
Jonathan Fitzpatrick, Pundit Arena.