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The Two Percenters . . . Ospreys Reach For Another Stunner Against the Munster Men

By Graham Thomas

Toby Booth looks the kind of bloke who is not easily intimidated, and he will need all that defiance, and more, at Thomond Park in Limerick on Friday night.

The Ospreys coach has also shown he knows how to defy the odds, which is why it is his team who are opponents for Munster in the first of the United Rugby Championship quarter-finals.

The Ospreys were given a two percent chance of making the knockout stages before last weekend’s final round of matches. They needed more unexpected things to go in their favour in order to survive than Rishi Sunak will on July 4.

But the cards all fell as they had hoped and then the Ospreys took care of their own business by beating Cardiff with a bonus point to leap up the URC table to eighth spot.

“You’ve got to dare to dream,” says Booth, the Englishman now in his fourth year at the Swansea region.

“Our goals at the start of the season were to get to the URC play-offs and to get to the knockout stages of Europe. With winning the Welsh Shield, those were our three objectives.

“We’ve achieved all three, which fills me with pride. Now we want to stretch our targets. Now we are here, let’s swing for the fence and give it a good go.”

Not many games are lost at home by Munster and not many people will give the Ospreys much of a chance at a noisy Thomond Park.

In fact, Munster have not lost at home to Welsh opposition since they were beaten by the Scarlets seven years ago.

The head-to-head record doesn’t give much comfort to Ospreys fans, either. Of the last 14 fixtures between the teams, the Ospreys have won just once – an 18-10 triumph at the Stadium in October 2021.

Little wonder, then, that DragonBet make the Ospreys big outsiders at 13/2, with Munster 1/9 firm favourites.

You can get the Ospreys at even money with a 14.5 start and catch them at 8/15 with a 20.5 start.

Here’s another statistic that echoes the basis of those odds. 

The Ospreys are making their first appearance at the quarter-final stage since 2017. Munster are appearing for the eighth time on the trot.

And what’s more, in their last nine games against Irish provinces, Booth’s men have won just once – against Ulster in February.

As Booth admits: “We’re going to Munster this weekend to face a very, very strong team – they’re the current champions, they finished top of the league and have a high number of players in the Irish squad.

“Munster have come from adversity as well, because there have been parts of their season that haven’t gone as well as they might have liked results-wise. But they’ve still ended up at the top, so that tells you that they’ve got a really tight group with a lot of quality in it.”

And yet there are reasons to believe, if you’re blood is black and white. The Ospreys have won games away from home this season which they were not expected to – such as  against the Stormers in April and at the Lions in January.

They have also beaten Sale, Perpignan, Benetton, and the Sharks in this campaign and earned a reputation for edging tight contests.

“Finding a way to win” Booth has called it – an ability to show tactical and technical adaptability, the kind of streetwise nous that used to come easily to Welsh teams whenever bigger, stronger teams – often from over the English border – came to town.

That ability has not gone un-noticed.

Indeed, former Ireland star Stephen Ferris, who will be commentating on the match for Premier Sports, says: “If there’s going to be an upset this weekend it would be there because of how good the Ospreys scrum can be.

“Their set-piece is generally pretty sound. They have been class up front. I don’t think they have been pushed around by any team and that will be a real positive for them moving into this game.

“I wasn’t that impressed by Munster last weekend. Ulster really did take it to them.

“If the Ospreys can get stuck into the Munster set-piece, that for me could be the only surprise this weekend.

“It would be class, eighth beating first away from home. That would be brilliant for the competition.”

It certainly would. And if that Ospreys pack can get going, then those long odds on a surprise outcome will suddenly look quite attractive.

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