Ospreys 19-13 Munster
3rd December @ Liberty Stadium
Munster were given a wake-up call by the Ospreys ahead of next weekend’s trip to the Scarlets for the first of their back-to-back fixtures in the Heineken Cup. The loss of Doug Howlett for those clashes compounds a poor effort from Munster, who could only manage one try to the Osprey’s two. The aggressive, physical defence of the Welsh side posed serious problems for Munster and they will have to be far smarter if the Scarlets adopt similar tactics. Munster weren’t helped by a frustrating performance from referee Peter Allen but will realise they did not deserve to win here.
Munster’s opening fifteen minutes suggested they weren’t focused on the task at hand. The Ospreys turned over the first Munster lineout and this was another area with which Munster would struggle all game. Ian Keatley then missed two penalties in quick succession. The first was, admittedly, from long-range but the second was kickable. Soon after, Tommy Bowe nearly had an intercept score for the Ospreys but he was unlucky to knock-on Keatley’s intended pass.
Munster hooker Damien Varley was then sent to the sin-bin for needless use of the foot at a ruck. With 14 men, Munster coped well, only conceding three points. Outhalf Matthew Morgan knocked over the penalty after captain Peter O’Mahony was pinged for hands in the ruck. Morgan had missed with a long-range penalty effort minutes earlier. Just before Varley re-entered the action, Keatley got off the mark with a penalty from the left-hand side to leave the sides tied at 3-3.
The 19-year-old Morgan then pulled a straightforward penalty effort wide to the left after a Simon Zebo high tackle. Munster responded by finally breaking down the Ospreys defence.
After Danny Barnes made a turnover, Denis Leamy put Zebo away down the left-hand touchline where he beat one defender before being tackled. Niall Ronan carried up the middle and then Will Chambers’ intended grubber bounced off Ospreys’ second-row Ian Gough. Doug Howlett was on hand to touch down the rebound. A fortuitous end to a great passage of play from Munster. Keatley added the conversion and Munster were 10-3 up.
However, the try didn’t result in Munster settling into the game and holding on to possession as it should have done. Instead, they were guilty of forcing offloads in the following minutes, resulting in Morgan reducing the deficit with another penalty. The half finished with a Varley overthrow at a lineout just to exemplify Munster’s lack of composure. Still, with a half-time lead and such a strong bench to be utilised if needed, the expectation was that Munster would raise their game in the second period.
The Ospreys conceded a penalty from the restart and Keatley kicked into their 22, good field position to kick-start the second half. But once again, Varley failed to hit his man and the opportunity was wasted. It appeared that Munster had emerged even less focused for the second half and that had dire consequences minutes later. Danny Barnes had the ball stripped from his grasp twice in one minute, and Munster were clinically punished the second time.
After Bowe had effected the turnover, Ospreys’ scrumhalf Rhys Webb and Morgan shifted the ball wide. Gough broke through Ronan’s tackle and offloaded for the hard-working Webb. The scrumhalf then passed inside for wing Richard Fussell. Keatley managed to get a hand to the pass but Fussell was still able to collect the bouncing ball and dive over. Morgan missed with an easy conversion to the left of the posts to leave the Ospreys with just a one point lead, 11-10.
Paul O’Connell entered the fray and was clearly up for it as he won Keatley’s restart. Unfortunately, not all of O’Connell’s team-mates were as alert and motivated. Keatley missed touch with a penalty and the Ospreys came back into Munster’s 22, piling on the pressure. When Allen gave a penalty to the Ospreys for hands in the ruck, Webb took advantage of several Munster players turning their backs. The lively scrumhalf took a quick tap and raced over for the try as Tomas O’Leary and Zebo fell over each other. Morgan was wide to the right with this conversion effort.
Ronan O’Gara was called into action with Munster struggling and he too made an immediate impact with a fantastic restart which the Ospreys knocked-on. However, the possession was wasted again as replacement prop Wian du Preez had the ball ripped from him in contact. The Ospreys weren’t letting up in the aggressiveness of their defence. Conor Murray was next to be introduced from the bench as Tony McGahan looked for his side to up the ante.
O’Gara narrowed the gap on the scoreboard with a penalty after the Ospreys collapsed a Munster maul. But barely a minute later Allen harshly penalised Ronan for handling in the ruck. Ronan looked to have won a turnover but Allen saw things differently. Morgan was on target this time for a 19-13 Ospreys lead.
With Murray now directing proceedings, Munster finally started to make inroads into the Ospreys defence. Murray brought the forwards into the game as he threatened around the fringes. With the Ospreys were still shooting up hard in defence out wide, Munster were making far more ground with ‘pick and go’s around the fringes. Murray was held up a metre short from one snipe and Munster were given the scrum five metres out, a great platform from which to win the match.
What followed was extremely frustrating for Munster. The Ospreys conceded three penalties at the scrum as Munster got the upper hand. Allen even warned the replacement prop Cai Griffiths that, “You know what I’m going to do” if he infringed again. As the scrum reset, Murray fed and the front rows went to ground. Incredibly, Allen gave the penalty against BJ Botha for losing his feet. It was hard to understand the decision with Munster in the ascendancy and clearly on top of the Ospreys scrum.
Munster then lost Howlett to injury when he went down as he took the ball into contact. They came back at the Ospreys once more and won a lineout five metres out. But the lineout failed again as Varley’s throw was over the reach of Donnacha O’Callaghan. Tommy Bowe collected the ball and booted it into the stand to confirm the Ospreys’ 19-13 win.
A bad evening for Munster but there can be positives taken from the closing fifteen minutes. With their key players on the pitch, Munster were a different side and another referee might have judged the sequence of scrums on the Osprey’s five metre line very differently. That said, this was an Ospreys squad missing a multitude of players through injury and international call-ups. The loss of Howlett is a blow as he has been the only member of the backline to threaten opposition consistently this season. Munster are always different proposition in the Heineken Cup but they will have to raise their game massively to take anything from the Scarlets next Saturday.
Photos courtesy: M+MD