The Ospreys defence of their Magners League crown ended in defeat at the hands of Munster on Saturday evening as a late rally failed to overturn a twelve-point deficit at Thomond Park.
Having absorbed a huge amount of pressure thanks to some courageous defence, the Ospreys finally succumbed to the continuous waves of attacks from the Munster men, and a late rally that led to a Richard Fussell try ultimately wasn’t enough.
As anticipated Munster came roaring out of the blocks, and a quickly taken free kick by Ronan O’Gara saw the Ospreys on the back foot as the home side worked their way close to the line through multiple phases. It looked as though they’d created an overlap and looked certain to score the first try with five minutes on the clock, but a Richard Fussell tackle on Keith Earls, coming in on the opposite wing, forced a knock-on and from the resulting scrum the penalty went the Ospreys way, allowing them to clear.
Having absorbed the early pressure the Ospreys were able to enjoy some possession, and James Hook was off target with a drop goal following an overthrown Munster lineout that was gathered by the alert Rhys Webb.
It was the hosts who did eventually open the scoring through the boot of Ronan O’Gara, a simple kick from the 22m line in front of the posts after the Ospreys were pinged in the scrum, that was marched forward 10m by Nigel Owens for backchat.
Another good passing move saw Munster again create an overlap on the right, but this timet he Ospreys were grateful to Dan Biggar who managed to read Lifeimi Mafi’s final pass to fullback Felix Jones at the expense of a Munster scrum five. Again the penalty went Munster’s way, and this time O’Gara opted to go for the corner. From the lineout Adam Jones was penalised for tackling the jumper while in the air, but on this occasion O’Gara put a simple looking kick against the right upright.
Another spell of concerted Munster pressure followed, and Tommy Bowe had to be alert to drive Earls into touch inside the Ospreys 22 as he gathered an O’Gara cross-kick.
With 27 minutes gone, O’Gara again spurned a straightforward looking penalty after an Ospreys offside, the swirling Limerick wind clearly troubling him, but on this occasion the visitors defence from the lineout was strong and they were eventually awarded a penalty of their own, this time for a Munster offside.
It was all Munster, with wave after wave of red pressure on the Ospreys line and they should have scored the opening try of the game on the half hour mark, Damien Varley and Mafi both making powerful runs before David Wallace carried close to the line. A simple pass to Earls on his outside would have meant a certain score, but he cut back inside where he found his path to the line blocked by a black wall.
However, after several attempts to drive their way over the line, sucking in defenders, the ball was eventually spread the width of the pitch by Munster, where Danny Barnes was able to race over to score. O’Gara’s conversion attempt was held up in the wind, falling well short, leaving the score at 8-0 with 8 minutes remaining in the first half.
Another wayward Varley throw allowed the Ospreys a rare chance to counter, Paul James punching a hole in the Munster line. Nigel Owens spotted hands in the ruck and Biggar was able to get his side on the board with a penalty from the 10m line.
The Ospreys scrum had been dominant in all four prior games between the teams this season, but on this occasion the decisions were going the other way, much to the frustration of their front row. Awarded a scrum close to the Ospreys line, when awarded a penalty, Munster opted to reset the scrum, The pressure eventually led to James Coughlan picking up at the base and charging forward, and when he was held up David Wallace drove over the line. However, excellent defensive work by Biggar, and then Webb, prevented him from grounding, as confirmed by the TMO, bringing the first half to a conclusion.
HALF-TIME: MUNSTER 8 OSPREYS 3
An early Munster penalty for not rolling away allowed the hosts a chance to extend their lead, and again O’Gara went for touch, from where they looked to rumble forward towards the line, only for Varley to be penalised for not releasing when tackled.
The second half was following a similar pattern to the first, with Munster in the ascendancy and the Ospreys regularly penalised for a string of offences, and after the referee issued a final team warning to skipper Alun Wyn Jones, O’Gara’s penalty attempt was again caught in the wind, failing to even reach the line.
Almost immediately after, the Ospreys were reduced to 14 when Richard Hibbard, who had only just replaced Huw Bennett, was sent to the bin after interfering with the ball at a ruck, departing the action for 10. O’Gara made no mistake this time.
A Tommy Bowe break up the left flank gave the Ospreys some encouragement, and a penalty on halfway for Munster hands allowed them an opportunity to enjoy a spell of pressure in Munster territory for the first time, Webb and Ashley Beck, on for the injured Hook, both carrying well before Jerry Collins handed back possession with a grubber through the middle that was dealt with easily by the Munster defence.
Despite being a man down the Ospreys were enjoying their best spell of the game, and Biggar was able to take the deficit back down to five points after Munster were penalised at the breakdown.
Less than a minute later though the Ospreys found themselves back behind their posts after Barnes had charged down Fussell’s clearance on his 22, before racing through to score, O’Gara converting.
Munster were looking to go for the jugular, and applied pressure on the Ospreys in their 22 once again, forcing Isaacs into a loose pass over Fussell’s head, that allowed Wallace to gather. Fortunately though, the fullback was able to recover, putting in a tackle on Wallace as he dived over the line that forced the Munster flanker into a knock-on.
Bowe then had to be alert to deal with Howlett’s chip and chase, after the former All-Black had broken from inside the Munster 22.
Some magic from Mafi almost saw him create a try in the corner, sidestepping several tackles before flicking a behind the back pass for Howlett who was held up short of the line, allowing the Ospreys to clear.
With the clock ticking down the Ospreys launched a final assault on the Munster line, working their way upfield through a series of phases, before Biggar’s cross kick invited Fussell to give chase, just winning the race to ground it in the corner with four minutes left. Biggar was off target with a difficult conversion attempt, leaving his side trailing by seven.
There was a lot to do if the Ospreys were going to level things, but they showed great spirit and no little endeavour as they battled their way back upfield following the restart, looking for a second try but ultimately, they were unable to force their way through as Munster held on to secure a home Grand Final against Irish rivals Leinster in two weeks.