The Ospreys gained their first Liberty Stadium win of the season with a hard fought victory over old rivals Munster.
Both teams were forced into an early reshuffle, Fussell for the Ospreys and Munster’s Conor Murray both suffering blood injuries inside two minutes, Ross Jones and Peter Stringer the respective replacements entering the action earlier than they would have anticipated.
With the opening 10 minutes played out almost entirely in the Munster half, albeit without the Ospreys overly troubling their opposition, a penalty against Wian Du Preez for holding onto the ball as he found himself isolated allowed Biggar to nudge the hosts ahead.
Just a minute or so later the touch judge drew the referee’s attention to some blocking by Simon Zebo on Hanno Dirksen as he chased his own kick up the right wing, allowing Biggar to double the lead.
The two blood replacements were reversed, but no sooner than he had re-entered the field Murray found himself going straight back off, looking somewhat dazed as Stringer came back on.
It got better for the Ospreys as the clock reached 20 minutes as Fussell crossed in the corner for the first try of the night. It stemmed from great work by the forwards, Ryan Jones showing great awareness to charge down an attempted Stringer clearance and Justin Tipuric reacting quickest to the loose ball to secure possession in the Munster 22. It was moved quickly, Andrew Bishop bursting through the line, then Ashley Beck fed Fussell who crossed the line to score.
Biggar added the extra from the left hand touchline to make it 13-0, but some carelessness from Kahn Fotuali’I near halfwaway allowed Munster to counter, eventually earning a penalty for offside. Ronan O’Gara made no mistake, securing his team’s first points of the evening.
A tremendous driving maul from the Ospreys saw them walk Munster back 15m into their 22, leaving the visitors with no option other than to half it illegally, but on this occasion Biggar pulled his kick to the right of the posts.
The Ospreys had managed to keep Munster’s dangerous backline quiet for the opening 34 minutes bit they sparked into life as half-time approached, putting some possession together and looking to stretch the defence. Zebo broke the line twice with some clever running, and as they laid siege to the Ospreys line, first Denis Hurley and then Niall Ronan were held up short on the line, the scrum eventually going the way of the Ospreys for a knock-on.
They weren’t out of trouble yet, the ball squirming out of the side of the scrum forcing a rushed clearance, Casey Laulala’s charge down from Dirksen’s kick thankfully going into touch. However, the Ospreys were again unable to clear their lines and after conceding a scrum 5m out, the penalty eventually went to Munster who opted to go for the posts, O’Gara making it 13-6 at the break.
HALF-TIME: OSPREYS 13 MUNSTER 6
O’Gara started the second half as he’d ended the first, slotting over a penalty within 120 seconds of the restart to reduce the deficit to just four points.
However, another powerful driving maul from a lineout again saw Munster retreating at a rate of knots and when it went down this time referee Dudley Phillips sent Tommy O’Donnell to the bin, Biggar duly restoring the seven-point advantage.
The Ospreys were on top, looking to keep the ball alive and stretch the defence with their extra man. Fussell’s kick to the corner almost released Dirksen for a try, before Hibbard was held up close to the line as he looked to power his way over.
With a scrum on the Munster line there was no stopping the Ospreys as they powered forward, the opposition eight buckling under the pressure as Mr Phillips ran under the posts for the penalty try to huge cheers from the crowd, Biggar’s conversion making it 23-9 with 55 gone.
Although they were well on top the Ospreys were finding themselves guilty of over eagerness too often, and Dirksen was made to pay for turning the ball over cheaply in midfield when Munster eventually won a penalty, O’Gara keeping the visitors in touch.
Buoyed by the score Munster began to pile the pressure on, patiently working the ball left and right as they looked to find their way through a resolute Ospreys defence. It looked as though they’d worked an overlap up the right but Laulala delayed the final pass and under pressure played it behind O’Gara, allowing Fussell to pounce close his line before haring upfield. It was a straight footrace between the fullback and Keith Earls, coming across field to cover, and it was the Munsterman who won the contest as he just got back to haul the Osprey down.
An offside decision on a central position on the Ospreys 10m line allowed Ian Keatley to slot over his first kick of the night to bring Munster back to within eight with 15 minutes to go, but the response from the hosts was instant as they grabbed their third try within 120 seconds. Fussell, enjoying a great night, was the catalyst again, running it back at Munster before deep, and Tipuric took up the baton, showing a lovely sidestep before getting hauled down just short. With the defence sucked in there was a huge overlap on the right and it was moved across to Hibbard who was left to saunter over, Biggar adding the extras to make it 30-15 with a little over 10 minutes left.
With eight minutes to go and Munster pressing a linesman’s flag alerted the referee to an off the ball offence which resulted in a red card being showing to Damien Varley, meaning that the visitors would see out the rest of the match a man short, replays showing that the replacement hooker had used his boot on Ospreys skipper Alun Wyn Jones.
Although the Ospreys looked to force a bonus point try in the closing minutes they were unable to find a way through. Nevertheless the coaches, and a crowd of almost 9,000, went home happy after watching the region stretching their winning run over Munster to four games.