Honours were even at Thomond Park on Saturday night as the Ospreys secured what could turn out to be an extremely valuable two points by way of a 13-13 draw with sixth placed Munster.
The Ospreys remain outside of the play-off spots following the Scarlets’ win over Edinburgh last night, but Steve Tandy and his coaches will definitely look at this as two points won rather than lost, at a venue where the hosts haven’t tasted defeat since last April.
Munster had the best of the opening exchanges and the experienced figure of Ronan O’Gara kicked the hosts ahead in the fifth minute after Kahn Fotuali’i was guilty of delaying the put-in at the scrum, the Irish 10 slotting over a penalty from the left.
Richard Fussell then had to be alert to bundle Doug Howlett into touch after the former All Black had read O’Gara’s cross kick to perfection, gathering out wide on the right and looking to use his pace to get away from the cover.
The Ospreys had struggled to get any kind of foothold in Munster territory during the first 10 minutes, but a Munster offside on halfway allowed Matthew Morgan to put his team deep into the opposition 22. After the first spell of sustained Ospreys pressure the penalty went their way, Stephen Archer not rolling away, allowing Morgan to levelling things in the 16th minute.
There was little to separate the two teams, with the game being played between the 22’s, but Morgan was able to nudge his team in front nine minutes later after Munster illegally halted an Ospreys maul.
Good work from Jonathan Thomas at the back of a retreating scrum inside the Ospreys 22 allowed the visitors to counterattack, Kahn Fotuali’i and Fussell combining well to take their team upfield into the Munster half, but the fullback’s little grubber carried too much weight and Denis Hurley was able to get back and gather ahead of Fussell behind his own line.
Hurley was involved at the other end minutes later as he chased a clever O’Gara kick to the corner, beating Scott Baldwin to the ball and keeping it in play with neat footwork. Fortunately for the Ospreys, Tom Habberfield was alert to the danger and was able to get back to ground the ball ahead of Hurley.
Munster then piled on the pressure, Habberfield’s kick and chase that saw him bundled into touch 5m from their opponents line by Felix Jones providing the only respite in a five minute spell of pressure, and it came as little surprise when O’Gara was able to level from in front of the boots after Alun Wyn Jones had offended just two minutes from the break.
HALF-TIME: MUNSTER 6 OSPREYS 6
The hosts were on the front foot right from the restart, putting the Ospreys under sustained pressure in the opening minutes.
Former Cardiff Blues centre Casey Laulala almost found his way through on the left, but having found the door slammed shut in his face Munster recycled, worked their way to the line through a series of pick and gos, and eventually it was hooker Damien Varley who was able to place the ball over the line despite the best efforts of Jonathan Thomas, referee Nigel Owens well placed to award the try. O’Gara’s conversion gave Munster a seven point lead with 45 minutes on the clock.
Munster tighthead Stephen Archer was sent to the bin four minutes later for an off the ball hit on James King, and the Ospreys took full advantage of the extra man to hit back immediately. Morgan spurned a kickable penalty, opting to go to the corner from where the Ospreys gathered clean ball to immediately set up an unstoppable rolling maul, Thomas eventually dotting down. Morgan’s fine conversion from the left hand touchline levelled things once more, with just under half an hour left.
It remained all square and delicately poised moving into the final 20, but a procession of front row replacements broke up the rhythm of the game, preventing either team from gaining enough momentum to wrestle control of the contest which again was being played almost entirely between the 22’s.
As the clock ticked down Munster were throwing everything at it, working the ball from wing to wing and back again, looking for a hole in the Ospreys defence, but there was no way through as the black wall kept Munster outside of the 22, eventually winning a penalty after Laulala went off his feet at the ruck following a big hit in midfield from Dmitri Arhip.
Munster enjoyed plenty of possession in the final minutes, looking to either set-up an O’Gara drop goal attempt or to draw the foul from the Ospreys, but the visitors disciplined defence held firm, O’Gara’s long range effort with time up drifting harmlessly off target, to secure a share of the spoils.