The Ospreys suffered semi-final heartbreak at Thomond Park for the third time as Munster booked a place in the Guinness PRO12 final next weekend.
Not for the first time in recent weeks, they started brightly but didn’t make their possession and territory count on the scoreboard as a solitary Dan Biggar penalty in the eighth minute was all they had to show for their efforts.
Munster got their side of the scoreboard moving just before the half hour and despite there being just five points separating the sides after an hour the hosts were able to pull away in the final quarter to book a spot at the Aviva Stadium next weekend.
There was a late change following the withdrawal of Rhys Webb due to a groin spasm, Brendon Leonard starting and Jay Baker coming onto the bench.
It was crucial that the Ospreys made a good start to silence the Thomond faithful and they took the game to their hosts from the first whistle.
They opened the scoring early on Dan Biggar squeezing his kick in from the left after a Munster offside on their 22.
Looking to build on that early lead the Ospreys continued to probe, stretching the Munster defence left and right, looking to create openings but coming up against a red wall that showed no sign of buckling.
As the clock ticked past the midway point of the half the lead was still only three points as Munster, having sucked up a lot of pressure began to play the game up at the other end.
The next score, and the first try of the evening, inevitably went the way of the Munstermen, after a quick check upstairs.
The hosts had built possession through multiple phases, Keith Earls and Billy Holland making good yardage before Francis Saili fed Rory Scannell on the left. When his midfield partner was stopped short, Saili was alert to the danger, picking up at the ruck and going over from close range.
The try was checked to see if Scannell had been in touch before releasing but the score was good. Tyler Bleyendaal could only strike the outside of the near post from the left hand touchline.
The Ospreys came back at their hosts, Alun Wyn Jones and Justin Tipuric doing well in midfield before Earls was penalised for a high tackle on Tom Habberfield 25m out on the Ospreys left. Biggar went for the sticks but his kick drifted across the face of the posts and just wide.
James King limped out of the action five minutes before the break to be replaced by Olly Cracknell, a back row reshuffle seeing Tipuric going to eight and Sam Underhill to seven.
The final minutes saw Munster pounding the Ospreys line after a penalty at a scrum on halfway allowed them to go to the corner.
Their attempted drive was repelled by the Ospreys pack, before Tipuric stopped Simon Zebo and Alun Wyn halted Donnacha Ryan. However, an advantage was being played and referee, Luke Pearce, took play back for a home penalty, Bleyendal stretching his team’s lead with the final kick of the half.
HALF-TIME: MUNSTER 8 OSPREYS 3
Early second half pressure from the Ospreys came to nothing, Nicky Smith losing possession close to the Munster line, trying to offload to his captain when resetting and recycling seemed the better option.
Munster were able to clear after winning a penalty inside their 22 and a wave of red pressure hit the Ospreys line, Habberfield able to do enough to put Earls into touch in the corner.
Back came the Ospreys though and, twice in the space of one attack they really should have scored in the left hand corner having worked an overlap.
First, Dan Evans delayed his pass to Habberfield too long, allowing Peter O’Mahony to bring him down before he could get it away. Then, they had a three on one, but instead of moving it through the hands with a short ball to Evans, Ashley Beck opted to swing it long to Habberfield but the pass was wild, going over the winger’s head and into touch.
There seemed little danger to the Ospreys when they were awarded a scrum on halfway but Leonard’s attempted grubber rebounded off the shins of Bleyendaal, allowing Conor Murray to race upfield.
Although Giles and Evans managed to get back to tackle Earls, the forwards took over, pounding the line. Munster thought they’d got over the line but the TMO and referee conferred to say no try.
At the resulting scrum five Munster again went for the line but the Ospreys were able to win turnover ball through Smith, Tipuric then putting the ball upfield with his boot, Giles giving chase.
Although the winger did well to prevent Earls getting away with the ball, Saili was able to dance his way clear and Munster broke from deep, taking full advantage of a disjointed defence, Zebo juggling Andrew Conway’s final pass before racing over to score. Bleyendaal converted to take Munster 12 clear with 20 minutes to play.
Bleyendaal then struck from 40m out, taking Munster more than two converted tries clear.
The Ospreys then thought they had reduced the deficit when, with 10 minutes to play, replacement hooker Scott Otten came away from a ruck 35 m out, brilliantly chipping over Conway and beating three defenders to ground it.
Confusion reigned when it was referred upstairs to the TMO, but in scenes similar to the semi-final at the same venue two years, it was adjudged that Habberfield had knocked on at the initial ruck.
Any lingering Ospreys hopes were then extinguished when Conway was able to squeeze over in the corner off the back of the scrum four minute later for a try that went unconverted.
The Ospreys kept going and they thought they’d grabbed a consolation with time up, eventually working space for Giles out wide who finished acrobatically to beat Sailli in the corner. Unfortunately he was denied what would have been an Ospreys record equaling 15th try of the season, the TMO confirming a foot in touch, and that was that for the Ospreys who must now regroup for next season.