IN THIS AGE of big money contract lures, 10-month playing seasons and increasingly professional academy systems, the phrase ‘transitional period’ is never far away.
The current Leinster squad has a settled feel but many other sides, such as Munster and Ospreys, are being forced to think on their feet as the old guard moves on.
Munster began this season by promoting several young stars into starting roles and attempting to talk down their league and Heineken Cup chances.
A series of stunning displays in Europe, however, led to heady thoughts that the quick fix may have worked.
Ulster put paid to that but Munster have performed admirably in the Pro12 and players such as Felix Jones, Conor Murray, Peter O’Mahony and Simon Zebo will form the core of a decent side for the challenges that await next season.
Knack of the Ospreys
Munster’s semi-final opponents have been forced to give youth a chance this season, which includes the February appointment of 32-year-old Steve Tandy as coach.
The Welsh side lost Lee Byrne, Mike Phillips and James Hook last summer but have developed promising attackers such as Ashley Beck and South African Hanno Dirksen.
Munster coach Tony McGahan has praised Tandy and his coaching staff for negotiating the team to the last four amid a period of such… fluctuation. He commented:
They’ve already got things well in motion to make a big assault on next year. The way they have conducted themselves recently has been terrific and they’re certainly aiming to win a title this year, there’s no doubt about that.
Speaking midweek, Tandy commented, “We’ve been fortunate enough to beat Munster twice this season and our defence, again, will be key. We seem to have a knack of beating Munster but, saying that,we know it will be a real difficult task on Friday night because they always seem to have that big game in them.”
With Ulster-bound Tommy Bowe out injured for the remainder of the season, Ospreys will rely on winger Shane Williams for the backline spark.
Ospreys real strength lies in its forward eight and proven international performers such as Adam Jones, Ryan Jones and captain Alun-Wyn Jones.
Their star performer this season, when he was not on international duty, has been 22-year-old flanker Justin Tipuric, who makes appearance number 50 for Ospreys this evening.
Tipuric said, “I’m just enjoying playing for my home region and I can’t wait to run out at the Liberty on Friday and get to 50. It’ll be a day to remember for me personally and for my family.” He added:
The aim will be to end the season on 51 appearances, it’ll be nice to get to the final there’s no doubt about it, but we’ve got a tough game against Munster where we will have to be at our very best.
There will be battles all over the pitch but the back row contest should prove deciding as Donnacha Ryan teams up with O’Mahony and Tommy O’Donnell to tackle Tipuric, Ryan Jones and Joe Bearman.
* Ospreys v Munster at Liberty Stadium kicks off at 7.35pm on Friday evening and will be live on RTÉ 2.