MUNSTER face the Ospreys away on Saturday night in what is their final game for over a month, meaning that the motivation should be high to sign-off on this opening block of URC fixtures by maintaining their 100% record.
Another obvious incentive is the fact that their provincial rivals Leinster and Ulster have also won their opening four ties, so already it looks like it is going to be as difficult to top the Irish Regional Shield Pool as it is to the top the actual United Rugby Championship table.
Therefore, it is imperative that Munster keep winning, regardless of how strong, or indeed how weak, the Munster lineup is. There's a decent Cork slant at least, with Liam Coombes, Shane Daly, Niall Scannell, Fineen Wycherley, John Ryan and captain Peter O'Mahony in the 15, along with promising fly-half Jack Crowley, for his first start.
Crowley, the Innishannon native came through with Bandon RC, and was electric for the Ireland U20s at the start of last year.
Matt Gallagher; Andrew Conway, Liam Coombes, Dan Goggin, Shane Daly; Jack Crowley, Craig Casey; Jeremy Loughman, Niall Scannell, John Ryan; Jean Kleyn, Fineen Wycherley; Tadhg Beirne, Peter O’Mahony (c), Jack O’Donoghue.
Kevin O’Byrne, Josh Wycherley, Keynan Knox, Gavin Coombes, John Hodnett, Conor Murray, Ben Healy, Damian de Allende.
Munster’s best win of the season came two weeks ago when they dismantled the Scarlets in Llanelli by 43-13 with was effectively a second-string line-up, and due to the obvious squad rotation that Munster are employing at the minute we can expect to see a lot of that side returning to Wales this weekend.
The recent Munster injury update was a lengthy one, with the likes of Rory Scannell, Thomas Ahern and Jason Jenkins all looking likely miss out this weekend. We have yet to see Jenkins in action since his arrival from the Japanese club Toyota Verblitz in the summer, and the plan was to ease him in over the past few weekends but he again misses out due to a persistent thigh injury.
World Cup-winning South African centre Damian de Allende has returned to the squad but probably needs time off given the amount of rugby he has played in the Lions Series and the Rugby Championship in recent months, so Munster fans cannot expect too heavy a workload on their key Springbok for a while. They have already broken one of their World Cup winners.
They certainly do not want to break the other.
The stars of the Scarlets triumph were never going to get a run-out last weekend against Connacht given that the teams for these first block matches had pretty much been determined well in advance, but Saturday night should give everyone a chance to see whether the displays from the likes of Calvin Nash and Liam Coombes were once off affairs, or whether they can be genuine first-team options going forward.
You would think that there has to be genuine opportunities available to anyone who shows serious form right now, especially when you consider that, bar the Scarlets game, Munster’s attack has not really got going yet.
In that respect, the next few performances of Ben Healy at out-half are going to be extremely intriguing. If he can back up his brilliant performance at Parc y Scarlets then the calls for him to be handed the Munster no 10 shirt in the big upcoming games in Europe and in the URC will only increase. Tomorrow Jack Crowley gets the chance to put himself in the mix.
Joey Carbery may have kicked a last-minute conversion to beat Connacht last Saturday night, and he has to be commended for showing real bottle in executing that kick, the grim reality is that he had another off night. In fact, that late Munster seven-pointer managed to save him from some seriously negative headlines, as it was Carbery’s error, when getting unnecessarily charged down by his opposite number Jack Carty, that almost cost Munster the game.
The Irish provinces may be monopolising the top three slots in the league at present but Saturday night’s game is a meeting of the third- and fifth-placed teams in the league, so the Ospreys will be viewing this as a real opportunity to get themselves into contention at the top of the table.
They have won three of their opening four games, with these being narrow, hard-fought wins over the Dragons, Cardiff and Benetton. Their one reversal was a heavy 13-27 defeat to the Sharks in Round 3. Munster had dismissed the South African side by 42-17 in Round 1 so the form guide would certainly be pointing towards a Munster victory.
It is probably unrealistic to expect a similar showing this weekend to what we saw against the Scarlets, but to have two or three of the younger players further strengthening their reputations would have to be deemed a huge positive, regardless of the result on the night.