Tag Archives: Ian Keatley

Saxons Set-Piece Provides Platform For Win

Match Report

England Saxons 23-17 Ireland Wolfhounds

Saturday 28th January @ Sandy Park, Exeter

(Video highlights at bottom of piece)

David Kearney, pictured playing for Leinster, was the stand-out Irish player as the Wolfhounds outscored the Saxons 3 tries to 2, but still lost. (c) Martin Dobey.

In a match that failed to truly ignite, the strength of the Saxons set-piece proved crucial to their win. There were intermittent glimpses of quality from the Wolfhounds backline but they understandably failed to click. Indeed, as could be expected after only a week together, both sides lacked cohesion in a largely scrappy affair. The watching Declan Kidney won’t have any fresh selection headaches ahead of the Six Nations based on this game. Still, it was a worthwhile exercise with many players getting their first taste of senior international rugby.

The Saxons enjoyed a dominant opening ten minutes to establish a 10-0 lead. Outhalf Freddie Burns opened the scoring with a penalty after Ugo Monye’s intelligent defensive work at the breakdown. A patient Saxons maul then laid the platform for scrumhalf Ben Spencer to snipe over from a metre out.

The Wolfhounds will be aggrieved with the manner in which the try was conceded as George Robson blocked Isaac Boss at the fringe of the ruck. There were clear echoes of Nathan Hines’ involvement in Clermont’s try against Ulster last weekend. Referee Mathieu Raynal somehow missed the block and Burns added the conversion.

The Wolfhounds should have got themselves on the scoreboard four minutes later as Ian Keatley glided through the Saxons defence and released Simon Zebo down the left wing. But as is his wont, the Munster wing ignored the three supporting runners inside and backed himself. This time, the decision was wrong as Matt Banahan battered the 21-year-old into touch. A real chance wasted.

Strong carries from Chris Henry, Nevin Spence and Rhys Ruddock put the Wolfhounds back in position to close the deficit. Following the big men’s contributions, Keatley’s pass sent Eoin O’Malley on a wide line with the Saxons defence stretched. The Leinster centre straightened off his left foot and slipped a pass inside to the trailing David Kearney. Kearney had enough pace to glide through Andy Saull’s tackle and touch down. Keatley was off target with the straightforward conversion.

That was the last scoring action of the first-half as neither side managed to gain control of the game. However, the Saxons scrum did completely dominate, as it would continue to do after the interval. Just before the break, a scrum penalty gave Burns the chance to extend the lead but he dragged his 35m effort wide to the left.

Gloucester outhalf Burns kicked 13 points for the Saxons. (c) Pierre-Selim.

Saxons No.8 Thomas Waldrom was the beneficiary of a lucky bounce as the English side scored their second try on the 54 minute mark. After another strong Saxons scrum 5m from the Wolfhounds’ line, Burns attempted a grubber, intended for the in-goal area. But when the ball bounced up off Spence’s feet, Waldrom was in the right place to gather and stride over untouched. Burns tacked on the easy conversion for a 17-5 lead.

A positive response from the Wolfhounds ended with replacement scrumhalf Tomas O’Leary getting over for a try. Another powerful Ruddock carry from the base of a scrum was followed by Dan Tuohy and Stephen Archer getting their hands on the ball. O’Leary sniped from the resulting ruck and had the power to take Paul Doran-Jones’ tackle and stretch out for the score. Substitute outhalf Ian Madigan converted.

The Irish side couldn’t build on that score as the Saxons scrum continued to dominate. Burns again failed to reward that dominance as he missed with a poor penalty effort. He made amends soon after when the Wolfhounds were caught offside. With the Irish side attempting to play out of their own 22, the Gloucester outhalf wrapped the game up with another straightforward three-pointer after aggressive work at the breakdown from the English forwards.

The Wolfhounds managed a consolation score with the last action of the match. Ruddock’s strength in contact again set the platform. O’Leary hit Zebo, one-on-one with Matt Mullan. The wing used his pace to get outside the Worcester prop and dive over. As the Saxons second-row George Robson was named Man of the Match, Madigan was wide with his conversion effort.

The performances of Leinster tyros Rhys Ruddock and David Kearney were hugely promising. The No.8 carried strongly throughout while Kearney’s threat on the ball was complemented by his defensive awareness. O’Malley showed flashes of his attacking ability and defended strongly. Ulster’s Dan Tuohy also offered several examples of his mixture of brawn and skills while Mike McCarthy was reliable in the lineout.

No.8 Ruddock put in a muscular performance. (c) Art Widak.

Stephen Archer and Brett Wilkinson will have learned plenty from their losing battle with the Saxons front-row. Archer is still only 23, very young in propping terms. Days like today are all part of the steep learning curve for novice props. Gavin Duffy at fullback had a day to forget, looking jittery whenever the ball came near him.

Overall, Declan Kidney may be slightly disappointed that no one made themselves impossible to ignore ahead of the clash with Wales next weekend. There will almost certainly be no surprises in the selection for that game, certainly not on the basis of what was offered in Exeter today. From this point, all the focus is on 3 o’clock next Sunday afternoon, when Ireland begin their Six Nations campaign looking for revenge.


Photos courtesy:   Pierre-Selim, Art Widak, Martin Dobey.


Here’s the three Irish tries from Dave Kearney, Tomas O’Leary and Simon Zebo:


Ulster Capitalise on Munster Mistakes

Match Report

Ulster 33-17 Munster

Friday 30th December @ Ravenhill

Humphreys scored 15 points for Ulster. Photo via Fabio Beretta.

Ulster secured a try-scoring bonus point as they strolled to victory over Munster in an entertaining game at Ravenhill. The nature of this defeat will rankle with the Munster players as several of the Ulster tries came from their errors. Brian McLaughlin’s decision to rest his first-choice team for the Stephen’s Day loss to Leinster was vindicated as his more settled team overcame a Munster selection which completely failed to gel. Ulster always looked the more dangerous side in attack as they cut Munster open on several occasions.

The opening quarter of the game was a scrappy affair which foretold the entertaining game that was to follow. Ulster opened the scoring through the boot of Ian Humphreys after Lifemi Mafi went offside chasing Ian Keatley’s garryowen. Munster hit back with a try from their impressive young wing Luke O’Dea. The Shannon man collected Keatley’s cross-field kick and did well to beat the tackle of Adam D’Arcy to dive over in the right-hand corner. Keatley was on target with the difficult conversion from the touchline.

An incisive passage of Ulster play led to their next score. Humphreys slipped Pedrie Wannenburg through the Munster defence with a neat inside pass. Munster came offside as they scrambled to halt Ruan Pienaar’s snipe down the blindside. To the left of the posts, Humphreys slotted the penalty. Better was to come for Ulster as they dished out maximum punishment for a Munster mistake.

Denis Hurley spilled the ball forward as he attempted to counter-attack from his own half. Humphreys sprayed a long pass out to Darren Cave on the left. The centre had enough pace to get outside the covering defence and draw the last defender to put Stefan Terblanche over in the left-hand corner. Humphreys added the extras from the touchline to put Ulster into a 13-7 lead.

Ulster try-scorer Terblanche is a recent signing from the Natal Sharks. Photo via Ryk Neethling.

In reply, Keatley drilled over a lovely penalty from out to the right after Pienaar was penalised for questioning referee Alain Rolland’s decision-making at the breakdown. After the Munster scrum had got a strong nudge on to win another penalty, Keatley had the chance to level the game. However, he missed from what seemed an easier position than his previous kick and Ulster were let off the hook.

McLaughlin’s team responded with another try which began with Terblanche bursting out of the Ulster 22 down the left. The ball was moved through five or six pairs of hands all the way out to the right, inside Munster’s half. Chris Henry then burst through only to be hauled down by Duncan Williams. The ball was recycled and moved to Terblanche in space out on the left. The South African chose to step inside and was tackled but John Afoa was on hand to go through Williams’ tackle from just metres out. Humphreys was successful with the conversion to send Ulster into half-time 20-10 to the good.

The first half had seen Munster clearly dominant in the scrum, but on resumption of play, Ulster turned the set-piece on its head. From a Munster put-in on their own 10 metre line, Ulster got a huge shove on. As Williams picked from the base of the retreating scrum, Willie Fallon’s tackle forced him into a knock-on. Humphreys hacked the bouncing ball ahead and won the race to touch down. The outhalf inexplicably missed the easy conversion but still, it was a weak 5 points to concede from Munster’s point of view.

More of the same followed 10 minutes later. Once again, Ulster shunted Munster back on their own put-in to the scrum. Williams tried to dig the ball out of the scrum as it travelled backwards. Under pressure from Henry, his attempted pass went loose and bounced up perfectly for Pienaar to run onto and stride over from inside his own half. Humphreys missed again with the conversion but Munster now had a mountain to climb after the complete turnaround of their first-half scrum dominance.

Chambers came on for the injured Gleeson and looked Munster's most dangerous player. Photo via M+MD.

Despite a period of sustained possession, Munster failed to create any semblance of a try-scoring opportunity. On the occasions they did find their way into Ulster territory, knock-ons meant they coughed up that possession. It was Ulster who continued to look the more threatening as they moved the ball wide at every opportunity. Humphreys extended their lead with a penalty from under the posts after David O’Callaghan had entered a ruck from the side.

With the clock running down, Munster did get a consolation try. Ulster looked to attack out of their 22 but Pienaar’s pass to substitute Peter Nelson was at the young fullback’s feet. The ball rebounded up for Johne Murphy to gather and stretch over. Keatley converted with the final score of the game.

In the end, a comfortable win for Ulster. Tony McGahan will be disappointed with some of the individual performances from his team. There weren’t many positives to be taken from this game, apart from the promising glimpses of talent from Luke O’Dea. McLaughlin will be delighted with the five points and relieved that his decision to rest players against Leinster was vindicated. Without the Irish internationals, this inter-provincial derby was always going to be devalued. Ulster dealt better with the losses and these five points mean they remain in the hunt for a play-off place.

ULSTER: 15 A D’Arcy (P Nelson, 71), 14 C Gilroy, 13 D Cave (C Farrell, 63), 12 I Whitten, 11 S Terblanche, 10 I Humphreys (P Marshall, 67), 9 R Pienaar, 1 P McAllister (C Black, 62), 2 A Kyriacou (N Brady, 55), 3 J Afoa (A Macklin, 71), 4 J Muller (capt.), 5 D Tuohy (L Stevenson, 62), 6  C Henry, 7 W Faloon (A Birch, 71), 8 P Wannenburg.

MUNSTER: 15 D Hurley, 14 L O’Dea, 13 T Gleeson (W Chambers, 27), 12 L Mafi (S Deasy, 63), 11 J Murphy, 10 I Keatley, 9 D Williams (T O’Leary, 62), 1 W du Preez (M Horan, 69), 2 D Varley (D Fogarty, 49), 3 S Archer, 4 I Nagle (B Holland, 73), 5 M O’Driscoll (capt.), 6 Dave O’Callaghan, 7 T O’Donnell (P Butler, 37), 8 J Coughlan.

Referee: A Rolland (IRFU).


Photos courtesy:  Ryk Neethling, M+MD, Fabio Beretta.

PRO12 Previews

Ulster vs. Munster @ Ravenhill

Friday 30th December, 19.05 (RTE 2) 

Keatley continues at 10 for Munster. Photo via M+MD.

Brian McLaughlin’s decision to rest his first-choice fifteen for the Stephen’s Day clash with Leinster lead to an inevitable 42-13 loss. Ulster come into this inter-provincial derby with their front-liners all restored to the starting line-up. The northern province lie 8th in the league after the loss to Leinster so a home win would be a timely boost before the new year.

Tony McGahan also chose a second-string side for Munster’s Stephen’s Day clash with Connacht. However, that team still proved strong enough to give John Hayes a winning send off at Thomond Park. Munster remain in 3rd after that 24-9 win but a loss at Ravenhill could mean dropping out of the play-off places depending on results elsewhere.

For this derby, McGahan has retained only three of the winning team from Stephen’s Day. Those players are captain Mick O’Driscoll, young wing Luke O’Dea and outhalf Ian Keatley. Tom Gleeson gets his third start of the season alongside Lifemi Mafi in the centre. Ian Nagle is included alongside O’Driscoll in the second-row. Surprisingly, given his form last season, this is Nagle’s first start of the campaign.

Johne Murphy is back on the wing for Munster. (c) Ivan O'Riordan

Elsewhere, Stephen Archer comes in at loosehead and Munster Academy player Dave O’Callaghan starts in the back-row, where he is joined by Tommy O’Donnell. Ronan O’Gara, Paul O’Connell, Donncha O’Callaghan, Donnacha Ryan, Conor Murray and Keith Earls are all in training camp with the Irish squad. McGahan has also decided to rest Danny Barnes and Niall Ronan who have featured heavily so far this season.

Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin has named a completely different starting fifteen from Monday’s loss to Leinster. Rory Best, Stephen Ferris, Tom Court and Andrew Trimble join the Munster internationals at Carton House for that Ireland training camp. Nevin Spence joins the likes of Paddy Wallace and Simon Danielli on the injury-list. Recent South African signing Stefan Terblanche starts on the wing while Ian Whitten joins Darren Cave in midfield. Ruan Pienaar continues at scrumhalf and New Zealander John Afoa is back in at tighthead.

With home advantage, Ulster will be confident of beating their inter-provincial rivals. However, they have not looked the same team without Ferris and Best when they have been rested this season. Munster have a promising-looking blend of experience and youth. McGahan’s team look narrow favourites for this one. It will be a fiercely contested inter-pro no matter what the outcome. A win either way would not be greeted with surprise.

ULSTER: 15 Adam D’Arcy, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Ian Whitten, 11 Stefan Terblanche, 10 Ian Humphreys, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Chris Henry, 7 Willie Faloon, 6 Pedrie Wannenburg, 5 Dan Tuohy, 4 Johann Muller (capt.), 3 John Afoa, 2 Andi Kyriacou, 1 Paddy McAllister.
Subs: 16 Nigel Brady, 17 Callum Black, 18 Adam Macklin, 19 Lewis Stevenson, 20 Ali Birch, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Chris Farrell, 23 Peter Nelson.

MUNSTER: 15 Denis Hurley, 14 Luke O’Dea, 13 Tom Gleeson, 12 Lifeimi Mafi, 11 Johne Murphy, 10 Ian Keatley, 9 Duncan Williams, 8 James Coughlan, 7 Tommy O’Donnell, 6 Dave O’Callaghan, 5 Mick O’Driscoll (capt.), 4 Ian Nagle, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Damien Varley, 1 Wian du Preez.
Subs: 16 Denis Fogarty, 17 Marcus Horan, 18 John Ryan, 19 Billy Holland, 20 Paddy Butler, 21 Tomas O’Leary, 22 Scott Deasy, 23 Will Chambers.

Connacht vs. Leinster @ The Sportsground

Sunday 1st January, 17.00 (TG4)

Nacewa moves to fullback for the New Years Day derby with Connacht. Photo via M+MD.

Well things just don’t get any easier for Connacht, do they? After a record 11th defeat in a row in the Stephen’s Day derby with Munster, Eric Elwood’s team now take on the league leaders Leinster. The sheer depth of the Leinster squad means that even when Joe Schmidt rotates players, it’s usually still a strong team on paper. That competition for places is a luxury that Elwood can only dream of. Even with Munster fielding a weakened team on Monday, Connacht’s first-choice never looked like potential winners.

Leinster are now 6 points clear at the summit of the PRO12 table following their bonus-point victory over Ulster. Connacht, meanwhile, languish in 10th, but the Newport Gwent Dragons have a game in hand which, if won, would see them move above Connacht. Ulster are only 5 points ahead of the western province and a couple of wins would mean Connacht challenging for automatic qualification for the Heineken Cup. However, in their current form, it’s extremely difficult to see where those wins will come from, certainly not against this Leinster team.

Joe Schmidt has once again made changes to his team. Andrew Conway is chosen on the wing after making his comeback from injury off the bench on Monday. The pacy young winger is joined in the back-line by his ex-Blackrock teammate Brendan Macken. This is only Macken’s second start of the season, and he has been more famous for his impressive impersonations than his rugby exploits recently. Up front, there are further recent Leinster Academy graduates in props Jamie Hagan and Jack McGrath. A decision on who will occupy the number 7 jersey, as well as two of the slots on the bench, will be made closer to kick-off.

Connacht were limited in the changes they could make for this match by the lack of depth in their squad. 6′ 5″ Connacht Academy player Mick Kearney gets his first start for the province, replacing the injured Dave Gannon in the back-row. Adrian Flavin gets the nod ahead of Ethienne Reynecke at hooker. In the backline, Kyle Tonetti comes into the centre for the injured Dave McSharry, Paul O’Donohoe is chosen ahead of Frank Murphy at scrumhalf and Brian Tuohy is back on the wing in place of Fetu’u Vainikolo.

Paul O'Donohoe lines out against his former club. (c) Ivan O'Riordan

Despite the youthful look to their side, Leinster should have too much for a Connacht outfit short on form, confidence and quality. It would be magnificent to see Connacht finally end their long-term slump but it doesn’t look likely that they will be ringing in the New Year with any victory celebrations.

CONNACHT: 15 Gavin Duffy (capt.), 14 Brian Tuohy, 13 Eoin Griffin, 12 Kyle Tonetti, 11 Tiernan O’Halloran, 10 Niall O’Connor, 9 Paul O’Donohoe, 8 John Muldoon, 7 Johnny O’Connor, 6 Mick Kearney, 5 Mike McCarthy, 4 George Naoupu, 3 Ronan Loughney, 2 Adrian Flavin, 1 Brett Wilkinson.                        Subs: 16 Ethienne Reynecke, 17 Denis Buckley, 18 Dylan Rogers, 19 Eoin McKeon, 20 TJ Anderson, 21 Frank Murphy, 22 Matthew Jarvis, 23 Henry Fa’afili.

LEINSTER: 15 Isa Nacewa, 14 Dave Kearney, 13 Eoin O’Malley, 12 Brendan Macken, 11 Andrew Conway, 10 Ian Madigan, 9 Isaac Boss, 8 Leo Auva’a, 7 Kevin McLaughlin/Shane Jennings, 6 Rhys Ruddock, 5 Damien Browne, 4 Leo Cullen (capt.), 3 Jamie Hagan, 2 Richardt Strauss, 1 Jack McGrath.                                 Subs: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Heinke van der Merwe, 18 Nathan White, 19 Devin Toner, 20 Shane Jennings/Jordi Murphy, 21 John Cooney, 22 Noel Reid/Fionn Carr, 23 Luke Fitzgerald.

Photos courtesy:  MD+D, Ivan O’Riordan.

Who Will Replace Howlett?

Howlett's injury is a big blow for Munster. Photo via M+MD

As Doug Howlett collapsed onto the turf at the Liberty Stadium last Saturday, under no contact, Munster fans immediately feared the worst. This is not a man who goes down or stays down. Howlett is one of the hardest-working backs to ever grace the field for Munster and has no time for feigning injury. Confirmation of those fears came yesterday as the All Blacks legend was ruled out for the remainder of the season.

This is a cruel blow for a Munster squad who have already had to cope with losing their two other most penetrative backs in Keith Earls and Felix Jones. With David Wallace missing too, Munster are a side short on players who can go through holes in opposition defences. This season, with Earls and Jones missing, Howlett has been the only back to make consistent inroads into defences for Munster. Even against the Ospreys on Saturday, as many of those around him struggled, Howlett made positive yardage every time he got on the ball. His work-rate was as high as ever and was rewarded with a try when he dived on the rebound of Will Chamber’s grubber.

That was Howlett’s third try in three games and he had looked in fantastic form recently. But unexpected injuries are part and parcel of sport. Munster now have to move past this disappointment as they prepare for a trip to the Scarlets on Saturday. How will McGahan replace the superb Howlett? We look at some of the options within the Munster squad.

This weekend comes too early for Earls who is almost recovered from his knee injury. The Ireland winger is expected to be back in training next week and is hoping to be fit for the return match with the Scarlets in Thomond Park. Meanwhile, Jones is still sidelined with his foot injury and is not expected back for another 4-5 weeks.

Simon Zebo went over on his ankle in training yesterday in another blow for Munster. He is hoping to be recovered in time for the 3.40 kick-off on Saturday but it is always hard to predict how long ankle injuries take to heal. In one Twitter update, the young winger said “Hurt ankle pretty bad today hoping for a good recovery per next day or two to try play #godihateice”.

Zebo has looked good on the ball in his last two outings for Munster so McGahan will be hoping that the Cork Con speedster will recover in time. If Zebo is fit, he will most likely be part of a back-three with Denis Hurley and Johne Murphy. Hurley has put in two strong performances at full-back in the Munster’s last two matches and he deserves to keep his place there. Murphy is comfortable on the wing and should be moved there to accommodate Hurley’s good form.

If Zebo does not recover in time then Munster will have to move one of Danny Barnes, Will Chambers or Lifemi Mafi onto the wing. The most likely of these three is Barnes who, even when playing at centre, often spends large parts of games out in wide channels. Mafi and Chambers certainly looks like the best centre partnership at the moment for Munster.

McGahan does have one further option in re-jigging his backline. Ian Keatley played full-back for Connacht many times last season and he could come into the back three, leaving Zebo, Hurley and Murphy battling for the wing positions. Keatley hasn’t featured at full-back for Munster yet this season so this will most probably be one of McGahan’s least favoured solutions.

Whatever backline Munster do decide on, they are facing a young, talented and dynamic Scarlets backs division. The likes of Scott Williams, George North and Liam Williams are devastating if given space. Rhys Priestland directs play from outhalf and they also boast Wales centre Jonathan Davies. However, the Scarlets are facing injury worries of their own as North and Davies hope to be fit in time for what should be another magnificent Heineken Cup clash.

With Howlett out, the most obvious choice of backline for Munster would be Murray and O’Gara at half-backs, Mafi and Chambers in the centre, and Zebo, Hurley and Murphy making up the back-three. Hopefully Zebo recovers from his ankle injury in time, as Munster will need the pace and penetration that he offers. While it’s not quite do-or-die time for Munster yet, whoever is chosen will need to step up to the plate and help make up for the loss of Howlett.

Photo courtesy:  M+MD

Munster Given Wake-Up Call by The Ospreys

Match Report

Ospreys 19-13 Munster

3rd December @ Liberty Stadium

Ian Keatley lines up a penalty for Munster. Photo via M+MD

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.

The loss of Howlett is a big blow for Munster. Photo via M+MD

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