A Herculean defensive effort in the final 10 minutes ensured that the Ospreys held on for a deserved win at Thomond Park to maintain their 100 per cent start to the new PRO12 season.
It was a closely fought contest with the lead see-sawing back and forth between the teams, but a try from Jeff Hassler - his third of the season - and 14 points from the boot of Dan Biggar was enough to see the Ospreys leave Limerick with four points in the bag and sitting pretty at the top of the PRO12 table again.
It was a decidedly low-key Thomond Park at kick-off, the crowd numbers clearly hit by the clash with the All Ireland Hurling Final between that had seen Munstermen heading off to Croke Park to support Limerick against Kilkenny in large numbers.
Munster struck the first blow with 11 minutes on the clock, their patience on the Ospreys line rewarded with the opening try of the evening through Gerhard van den Heever. It was Conor Murray who had put his team in the corner with a clever little chip over the defence, Dan Evans forced to concede the lineout. Although the Ospreys defence was able to stop the driving maul from gaining any momentum, the home pack went through a series of close range drives to suck in the defence before spinning it wide to the left where the winger had a simple finish. Ian Keatley’s conversion attempt though was always drifting across the face of the posts and wide to the right.
The Ospreys hit back almost immediately, and it was Hassler rounding off a well-worked move in which Justin Tipuric had featured prominently with his angles of running and good hands, the flanker providing the scoring pass for his winger. Biggar made no mistake with a difficult conversion from the right touchline to nudge his team ahead.
With 25 minutes on the clock the hosts almost worked their second try of the afternoon, in a similar fashion to their first. Again, the Ospreys successfully held up the Munster line out drive, but when it was worked wide with a man over a try seemed certain. Only a tremendous last ditch effort from Josh Matavesi stopped van den Heever going over again. At the ensuing ruck, Munster were ruled to have offended on the ground, the penalty going to the Ospreys.
Just a minute later there was a blow for the Ospreys with Tipuric forced out of the action through injury, James King entering the fray.
The Wales cap was immediately in the thick of the action, securing the ball from an overthrown Munster line out in their 22. The Ospreys laid siege on their opponents line, probing in all directions, and they thought they had stretched their lead when Biggar fed Hassler to go over under the posts, only for referee Neil Hennessy to pull them up for what was, on the replay, a clear block by Matavesi.
The home team were struggling to get out of their half at this stage, a situation not helped by Keatley slicing the resulting penalty straight into touch. An Ospreys hand got in the way at the resulting lineout, knocking on, much to Murray’s relief as play was brought back after Rhys Webb charged down his clearing kick and won the race to ground it, the second disallowed try in 60 seconds.
A 45m kick from Biggar on 33 minutes did see the Ospreys stretch their lead after Munster were penalised for pulling down at the lineout.
The Ospreys’ aggressive defence was a risky but successful tactic at this stage, really frustrating their opponents, but an up and under from Murray drew Hassler into a rash challenge in the air, taking out van den Heever. The penalty allowed Keatley to put his team deep into Ospreys territory. When Dan Baker was caught offside at a ruck the hosts were handed a shot at goal with time up and Keatley made no mistake from in front of the posts.
HALF-TIME: MUNSTER 8 OSPREYS 10
The Limerick rain greeted the teams back to the field after the break, the slight breeze drifting it into Ospreys faces.
Hassler was driven into touch as he collected the kick-off, and at the resulting line out Alun Wyn Jones was adjudged to have tackled Paul O’Connell in the air. Keatley made no mistake with the penalty, nudging Munster ahead by a single point.
The Ospreys were struggling to get the same grip on the second half as they’d enjoyed for long stages of the first, and they were reduced to 14 men in the 48th minute when Rynier Bernado was sent to the sin bin for pulling down O’Connell in the lineout.
That should have meant Munster stretching their lead further but Keatley’s penalty effort, seemingly a straightforward three points, skewed off target horrendously.
It drew a positive response from the Ospreys though, taking the game back to Munster as they looked to regain the lead. They duly grabbed it in the 54th minute, Biggar with a simple three points from right in front of the sticks after his team were awarded a penalty at the scrum.
Just a couple of minutes later, Alun Wyn was penalised for interfering on the ground in a central position some 42m out, and this time Keatley found the target, kicking Munster ahead once more, the score standing at 14-13 on 57 minutes.
Back came the Ospreys, keeping Munster pegged deep inside their own territory and twice Rhys Webb was in the thick of things, first stealing possession at the back of an opposition scrum but just overdoing a kick through to the line, and then dinking a grubber beyond the Munster defence that Hassler couldn’t reach.
With Bernardo back on the field, a tremendous effort at the scrum saw Munster retreating at a rate of knots. The scrum disintegrated and as the home team tried to scramble it clear great work from the Ospreys skipper saw him rewarded with the penalty and Biggar again delivered a good kick to take the Ospreys ahead once more with 15 to go.
It was an even, entertaining contest, and the sound of ‘Ole, ole, ole, Ospreys' could be heard ringing in the air as the clock ticked down with the Ospreys enjoying a two-point advantage.
Biggar was then handed another pop at goal from an identical spot as the last time after a Munster player was caught offside in front of the kicker and the result was the same as he stretched it to a five point lead.
As you’d expect, Munster threw the kitchen sink at the Ospreys line in the closing stages but there was no way through the white wall as the visitors held on for an impressive victory.