Magners League heavyweights face off in a crucial Heineken Cup clash

MUNSTER aim to extend their unbeaten record against the Ospreys in the Heineken Cup to four games when the Magners League heavyweights face-off in the first of two back-to-back pool three fixtures at Thomond Park this Sunday (1pm).

MUNSTER aim to extend their unbeaten record against the Ospreys in the Heineken Cup to four games when the Magners League heavyweights face-off in the first of two back-to-back pool three fixtures at Thomond Park this Sunday (1pm).

In-form Munster currently enjoy a one-point lead over the second-placed Ospreys in pool three of Europe's premier club rugby competition.

The outcome of Sunday's sell-out tie and the return meeting of the sides at Liberty Stadium on Saturday, December 18 should go a long way towards determining whether Tony McGahan's men secure a quarter-final place for a 13th straight season.

While the Ospreys have been successful against Munster in the Magners League at Thomond Park the Welsh side are seeking a first win over the Irish province in the Heineken Cup. Munster's three successes over the Sean Holley-coached side include a runaway 43-9 quarter-final success in 2009.

A two or three out of ten

Double Heineken Cup champions Munster go into the clash in the wake of a 15-9 win over Cardiff Blues last weekend. While pleased with the result, coach Tony McGahan said his side's stuttering display ranked as a 'two or three' out of ten.

In the same round of Magners games the Ospreys beat Edinburgh 33-16 at Liberty Stadium.

Munster coach McGahan will face a number of big selection decisions for Sunday's game, especially in the backline. The question of who will play at full-back and the make-up of Munster's midfield are sure to exercise the coach's mind most.

McGahan said the performance of players in Saturday's victory over Cardiff would be one of the factors he would consider when deciding on his starting line-up to face the Ospreys this weekend.

"It (last Saturday) will play a part because it's our most current game so it's a currency of where players are at," Tony McGahan said.

"But we also (need to) take in history of where players are at, where they played and the guys who have been away on international duty as opposed to the players who have been here playing here every week.

"We need to put everything in the mix and look at what's the best combinations for starting the game, what the best combination for finishing the game, who is going to deliver what we need to deliver against Ospreys, but more importantly what's going to suit us," Tony McGahan explained.

"Heineken Cup weeks are different whether you've been successful or not the week before.

"We're able to bin that and move on, treat the week and the two weeks in particular as a little block. We need to get the focus on that because getting ourselves back organisational wise and mentally is important. I don't see that as a problem."

Coach McGahan was relieved Saturdays game with the Cardiff Blues beat the big freeze as it afforded his returning international stars with an opportunity to get some vital game time in the red jersey ahead of the Ospreys clash.

"It was imperative that we got a game (against Cardiff), so full credit to Nicky Grene, Colm Moran and everyone at Thomond Park for getting the game on," Tony McGahan said.

"It would have been a real struggle- with the Magners League so condensed now - to fit in a game mid-week now and especially with the four games over the Six Nations, it is going to be very difficult to fit a game in there.

"With so many players coming back in, it was imperative that we played and got through.

"It was important that we played a very good Cardiff side who are third in the table. To get a result against them is pleasing."

Dealt a blow

The Ospreys were dealt a blow this Wednesday with confirmation that Wales full-back Lee Byrne will miss the double header with Munster due to a thumb fracture.

Earlier this week it was announced that Ospreys back rower Marty Holah will miss the round three and four Heineken Cup games with Tony McGahan's men after being suspended for two weeks.

The New Zealander was cited following the 33-16 Magners League win over Edinburgh at the Liberty Stadium last weekend. Holah was found guilty of tripping and playing an opponent without the ball.

Underestimating Munster

Ospreys head coach Sean Holley said they were not underestimating the size of the challenge they faced over the next two weekends. "You can never write Munster off. They have laid the foundations in place and, after all the time of trying, there is a legacy there now," Sean Holley said.

"They have worked hard to get where they are now - just ask our forwards coach Jonathan Humphreys because when he played Munster at the end of his career he was playing in front of just a couple of hundred people at Thomond Park.

"Now they have big stands, have won a couple of Heineken Cups, have won the Magners and are currently top of the Magners and our Heineken Cup group.

"It is ludicrous that people wrote them off at the start of the season - and those comments and thoughts have probably spurred them on.

"We didn't really need that but we are improving and progressing and it should be a great couple of weeks."

Tony McGahan named a 28-man squad following training in Dooradoyle this Wednesday.

Munster's match day 23 for Sunday's Round 3 three will be named on Friday at mid-day.

Munster squad: Wian du Preez, Damien Varley, Mike Sherry, Darragh Hurley, John Hayes, Tony Buckley, Dave Ryan, Donncha O'Callaghan, Paul O'Connell, Mick O'Driscoll, Donnacha Ryan, James Coughlan, David Wallace, Alan Quinlan, Niall Ronan, Denis Leamy, Tomas O'Leary, Peter Stringer, Ronan O'Gara, Paul Warwick, Johne Murphy, Lifeimi Mafi, Tom Gleeson, Scott Deasy, Denis Hurley, Sam Tuitupou, Keith Earls, Doug Howlett.