AFTER back-to-back wins over two Italian sides, currently propping up the Guinness PRO12 table, Munster’s season cranks up a gear this saturday evening with the visit of table toppers the Ospreys to Thomond Park, 6.30pm.
Head coach Anthony Foley, the rest of his backroom team and the Munster players should learn just how well-placed the side is to deal with the rigours of a demanding fixture schedule which will see the Reds face Leinster and Scarlets in the PRO12 and Sale Sharks and Saracens in the European Champions Cup in the coming weeks, once this weekend’s tie with the Welsh region is over.
Just how good are the Ospreys right now?
Table-topping Ospreys have won their last four PRO12 matches since tripping up to Zebre in Parma in May.
The Welsh region in three from three this season, racking up 120 points in those games. Last weekend, the Ospreys recorded a facile 62-13 home win over Edinburgh, the same side Munster failed to beat at Thomond Park at the start of the month.
So an away win then? Well, it’s not that straight forward. Munster didn’t play well against Edinburgh and still had a kick to win the game at the end. The Scottish side was woeful against the Ospreys last weekend, so trying to predict the outcome on Saturday’s game based on the two sides results against Edinburgh would be folly.
However, to date, the Ospreys have coped better than many predicted with the summer departures of the likes of Richard Hibbard, Adam Jones, Ryan Jones and Matthew Morgan.
The Welsh region have a quality leader in the shape of Alun-Wyn Jones, the Wales international lock. Munster will look to test them early.
Can Andrew Smith maintain his fine start to the season?
Munster’s Aussie-born centre Andrew Smith has really caught the eye in recent weeks having arrived from the Brumbies during the summer.
Smith, operating at outside centre, helped create the opening for Simon Zebo’s opening try against Zebre on Friday night with a clever skip pass. And the Australian capped a fine display when scoring Munster’s bonus point try at the start of the season half.
With the summer departures of both Casey Laulala and James Downey, together with injuries to Cian Bohane and Keith Earls, Munster’s midfield options have been limited. However, Smith’s fine early season form will provide much encouragement to the province ahead of crucial PRO12 and European Champions Cup fixtures.
What kind of attendance can we expect on Saturday?
THE Ospreys are the most attractive side to visit Thomond Park so far this season and it will be interesting to see what the attendance is like - that is the actual number of people coming through the gates rather than the official attendance which includes season ticket holders.
The official attendance at Munster’s game with Zebre last Friday was given at 12,500, but there was probably half that number of spectators inside the ground.
Saturday night’s turn-out will gibe a clearer picture of support levels ahead of the big trip to Dublin a week later, although live TV coverage of both the All-Ireland hurling final replay and the Ryder Cup could well reduce numbers coming through the turnstiles somewhat.
Where can fans buy tickets and watch the game on TV?
Further details on tickets for Saturday’s game are available from www.munsterrugby.ie
Saturday’s game will be the first time a Munster Guinness PRO12 fixture will be shown on Sky Sports this season.
Coverage will begin at 6pm on Sky Sports 2. Munster’s PRO12 clash with Leinster at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday week is also live on Sky Sports. This means a three-week break in Munster being televised live on terrestrial TV as there was no TV coverage of Friday’s Zebre game.