The Ospreys booked their place in the RaboDirect PRO12 final with a stunning victory over Munster, running in five tries on a memorable night at the Liberty Stadium.
It was the Ospreys third consecutive semi-final, and their win sets up a possible rematch of the 2010 final – the first ever – when the Ospreys claimed the trophy in Dublin, defeating Leinster at their home ground. The region must now wait for Saturday’s clash between Leinster and Glasgow at the RDS to find out their opponents, and whether they return to Dublin or host the Scots.
It was the worst possible start for the home team, Munster grabbing a try with just 138 seconds on the clock through Ian Keatley. It was Keith Earls who punched a hole in the Ospreys defence on halfway, his clever angle onto Lifeimi Mafi’s pass allowing him to scythe a path towards the 22 before offloading to his fly-half who had a simple canter over before converting his own score, silencing the Liberty Stadium crowd.
Undeterred by the early setback the Ospreys responded positively and Biggar chalked up his team’s first points of the night five minutes later with a penalty from the 10m line after Munster were caught going off their feet at the breakdown.
The Ospreys then thought they had carved open the Munster defence with a stunning counter attack after great work by Joe Bearman to win turnover ball on halfway. It was shifted across the back with pace, Richard Fussell coming into the line well, eventually finding Shane Williams who accelerated away to ground it only to be called back by touch judge Nigel Owens for a foot in touch much to the annoyance of the home crowd.
However, they were celebrating just a minute later though, the Ospreys winning the Munster line-out and edging their way towards the line before Ryan Jones offloaded in the tackle to Biggar who went over for what was, unbelievably, his first try of the season. The young fly half picked himself up to add the extras, taking the score to 10-7 with 12 minutes gone.
It was hectic stuff as you’d expect in the early stages of a semi-final and at the midway point of the first half Keatley made no mistake from close to halfway, levelling things after Richard Hibbard had been caught offside. Again the Ospreys hit back straight away, a Biggar penalty after Simon Zebo came into a ruck from the side putting the Ospreys back in front and taking Biggar over 300 points for the season.
The Ospreys crowd were certainly making a noise, heeding the pre-match call to be the sixteenth man, and they were roaring their team on following a Munster scrum in the Ospreys half that disintegrated under pressure allowing the Ospreys to break at pace, Ashley Beck carrying well, only for a penalty to eventually go the way of the Irish in front of their posts after Alun Wyn Jones was adjudged to have held onto the ball too long after being tackled.
Biggar then brought up the half hour mark by taking his, and the Ospreys, tally up to 16 with a simple penalty after Donncha O’Callaghan broke around four laws in one at the breakdown.
Possibly the biggest cheer yet came a minute or so later when a combined double hit from Ryan Jones and Joe Bearman on a full-pelt Mafi as he looked to force his way through eventually resulted in an Ospreys penalty.
Munster came back at the Ospreys, enjoying a spell of concerted pressure as the clock ticked down towards the break, their forwards driving for the line but the hosts were able to just about hold out, keeping their line intact despite five minutes of pick and drives.
Having absorbed all the pressure, a turnover ball just outside their own 22 allowed the Ospreys to launch a stunning counter attack, Fussell taking advantage of a Munster player slipping to gain more than 50m before slipping the ball inside to Bearman, who kept the momentum going before supplying the scoring pass to Fotuali’i, the Samoan scrum-half going under the posts with time up, allowing Biggar to round-off the first period with a simple conversion to put the Ospreys 13 points ahead.
HALF-TIME: OSPREYS 23 MUNSTER 10
Munster would have been desperate for a positive start to the second half and they patiently worked their way towards the Ospreys line from the restart before injecting some pass through Earls on the left. Keatley offloaded to Simon Zebo who looked to jink his way through from 5m out, only for Fussell’s tap tackle to bring him down, the wing knocking on as he hit the ground.
Ospreys pressure at the scrum then resulted in a penalty going their way in a central position 42m out and Biggar made no mistake, his kick taking the Ospreys more than two converted tries clear with half hour to play. The three points also saw him going past 1000 career points for the region.
It got even better for the Ospreys with 55 minutes on the clock, a tremendous turnover from Tipuric, making the tackle on Ronan O’Gara before stealing the ball, allowed the Ospreys to attack from halfway with real purpose. Fotuali’i freed Fussell who carried at pace, drawing the tackle before releasing Dirksen who scorched his way up the right to score his side’s third try of the night in the corner. Biggar was just off target with his conversion attempt, leaving the score 31-10 to the Ospreys.
The Ospreys fourth try of the night came just after the hour, and again it stemmed from O’Gara being turned over as he looked to run it out of defence. The ball went wide to Dirksen who tried to barge his way over with no luck, but the Ospreys reset then came back infield where Bishop was able to crash over between the sticks, leaving Biggar with the simplest of kicks after the TMO had confirmed the score.
With the game in the final quarter and the Ospreys four converted tries ahead it was all but over as a contest but the hosts were relentless in both defence and offence, working tirelessly to close down any Munster opportunity while looking to attack at every opportunity.
As the clock moved past 70 points another well worked move saw the Ospreys sweep upfield for a fifth try, started and finished by Webb. The scrum half made the initial break with a quick tap penalty deep inside his own hall, James King continued the move, before Shane Williams and Tom Isaacs combined, Isaacs eventually supplying Webb who went under the posts for Biggar to convert, his last action of the game before being replaced by Matthew Morgan.
There was to be no more scoring as the Ospreys played out the final minutes without any worries, leaving the players and fans to celebrate a historic win together long after the final whistle.