The Ospreys were defeated at Thomond Park on Sunday afternoon, but they take a valuable bonus point back to the Liberty Stadium with them ahead of next weekend's return fixture against Munster.
Tommy Bowe scored the Ospreys only try, a length of the pitch interception to put his side in front early in the second half, but Munster took advantage of the Ospreys being reduced to 14 when Paul James was sinbinned to score two match winning tries, despite playing out the closing stages with 14 men themselves after Paul O’Connell was red carded for elbowing Jonathan Thomas.
There was a late change on the bench for the Ospreys after Nikki Walker was struck down with a stomach bug overnight, 18-year old Tom Prydie taking his place exactly a year to the day after he became the Heineken Cup’s youngest ever player against Viadana.
As always at Thomond Park the crowd was whipped up pre-match with a rousing rendition of ‘Stand Up and Fight’ before the Ospreys entered the field to the sound of a heartbeat and were then kept waiting a minute before the hosts took to the field for this eagerly anticipated clash.
A Munster knock-on straight from the Ospreys kick-off gave the men in black the early initiative, with referee Christophe Berdos penalising the hosts at the ensuing scrum. After a brief ‘getting to know you’ amongst the forwards, Dan Biggar gave his side the lead with just 105 seconds on the clock through a long range penalty.
It was a fast and frenetic opening with both sides showing positive intent wherever possible, and the first try went Munster’s way in the 10th minute. The Ospreys had done a good job of slowing down the hosts attempts to recycle on the 10m line but when the ball did eventually come out,Tomas O’Leary spotted space behind Richard Fussell and his clever grubber allowed Doug Howlett to race through and score in the corner despite the best efforts of the Ospreys wing.
O’Gara missed a difficult conversion though and the Ospreys hit straight back after Munster were penalised for not rolling away, Biggar making no mistake from in front of the posts.
It was the Ospreys who were guilty of the same offence just a couple of minutes later but despite the perfect Thomond Park silence O’Gara was again unsuccessful, putting his effort from the 10m line across the face of the posts and wide of the right hand upright.
The scrum was proving to be a real battle with the Ospreys front row tending to get the benefit of Monsieur Berdos’ decisions in the opening quarter, while a period of aggressive defence from the Ospreys saw Munster struggling to get the ball out of their 22, the forwards closing down every bit of space quickly to prevent the opposition gaining any ground.
Munster responded well though, first Paul Warwick and then Keith Earls making good ground with some dynamic running, but the Ospreys were able to keep them at bay as the crowd burst into a rendition of ‘The Fields of Athenry’ to inspire their team.
With 30 minutes on the clock Munster were handed the chance to retake the lead after Marty Holah was caught off his feet at the ruck, but once again O’Gara failed to find the target with what seemed a straightforward penalty.
A well-worked set-piece from a penalty line-out then saw the Ospreys make good progress, Jerry Collins carrying strongly into the 22 before offloading to Paul James. When the ball somehow squirted out from the side the verdict was penalty to the Ospreys, but this time it was Biggar whose radar was off.
Some aggressive work in the ruck from skipper Alun Wyn Jones then allowed the Ospreys to launch a counter attack at speed, Biggar’s kick to the corner allowing Bowe to really open his legs, making tremendous ground on Munster flanker James Coughlan, but the big man was just able to win the ball ahead of the Ospreys wing as he looked certain to score, allowing Warwick to clear.
It was then Munster's turn to profit at a scrum on halfway and with advantage being played they moved the ball wide at speed, Warwick bursting into the line and through several challenges before his progress was halted inside the 22.
As half-time approached, Munster were in the ascendancy and with the clock showing time-up the Ospreys were guilty of pulling down a maul on the 22, allowing O’Gara to send his side in at the break with a two point advantage.
HALF-TIME: MUNSTER 8 OSPREYS 6
Munster came out all guns blazing at the start of the second half, only a last ditch tackle from Bowe stopping Earls from racing through unchecked.
Munster recycled, spread it right and then looked to come back left, probing for the gap. With an overlap out wide Sam Tuitupou looked to throw a long pass for the inevitable try, only for Bowe to read it perfectly, stepping in to collect the interception before racing the length of the field to score under the posts to stun the Thomond Park crowd into silence, Biggar’s conversion making it 13-8.
Munster came storming back at the Ospreys, Coughlan, O’Leary and O’Gara all making ground and edging their side closer to the line. A penalty was conceded by the Ospreys, and even though there were 27 minutes remaining Munster opted to go for the line instead of taking the three on offer. Denis Leamy and Damien Varley both tried to force their way over from close range but the Ospreys were able to hold them out, albeit with the aid of some foul play from Ryan Jones, who received a stern talking to from the referee.
This time Munster looked to try their luck at close contact and got their reward as the scrum went down, the referee issuing a yellow card to James. Duncan Jones immediately entered the fray as a front-row replacement, Jerry Collins going to the sidelines.
It was a testing time for the visitors with the scrum being reset twice, and although they held firm, Munster were eventually able to force their way over the line after several phases, David Wallace driving over to level the score with an hour gone, O’Gara’s conversion putting his team back in front.
It was important that the Ospreys looked to settle themselves, but before long thet were back behind the posts as Munster helped themselves to a third try. Biggar lofted forward an up and under that saw three Ospreys chasing. It was patted backwards but only as far as the retreating O’Leary, who fed Johne Murphy and the winger was able to ignore the supporting Earls to score despite Barry Davies’ efforts, O’Gara adding the extras to take Munster nine clear.
A long range penalty from Biggar then put the Ospreys back into bonus point territory with 13 minutes remaining and the Ospreys back up to their full complement.
Munster then lost talisman O’Connell only minutes after he arrived on the field after a swinging arm laid out Thomas, Monsieur Berdos showing him red much to the chagrin of the home support, leaving the hosts to play out the final 10 a man short. Barry Davies looked to take advantage with a long-range penalty effort from inside the Ospreys half, which unfortunately had the distance but not the direction.
As much as they tried, the Ospreys were unable to find a way through some solid Munster defence, meaning they had to settle for the bonus point, but they will take plenty of positives back to the Liberty Stadium ahead of next Saturday’s crucial clash.