The Ospreys showed courage, determination and no little flair to secure a memorable victory over Munster at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday night.
Missing 19 players through international calls and injury, they produced a terrific effort to overcome a strong Munster team, second half tries from Richard Fussell and Rhys Webb proving crucial as the Ospreys recorded a rare double over their opponents.
After an immaculately observed silence in memory of former Wales football manager Gary Speed, who died last weekend, the Ospreys came flying straight out of the blocks, quick hands allowing Ashley Beck to gain good ground inside the opening 60 seconds, only to find himself isolated at the expense of a penalty for holding on after the tackle.
A penalty against the Ospreys at the scrum gave Munster a chance to open the scoring but Ian Keatley’s attempt from the 10m line close to the right hand touchline fell short.
An offside call against Andrew Bishop minutes later allowed Keatley a second opportunity, from a similar spot on the 10m line, this time on the left and 5m further infield, but the result was the same as his kick dropped under the crossbar.
Munster were reduced to 14 on the quarter of an hour mark when the referee’s attention was drawn to illegal use of the boot by Damien Varley on Ospreys skipper Tom Smith, resulting in 10 minutes in the bin.
An obstruction by Munster captain Peter O’Mahony then gave the Ospreys their first chance to go for goal but Matthew Morgan’s long range effort, like Keatley’s, just run out of gas at the last moment.
Morgan fared better a couple of minutes later after the Ospreys had put together a spell of good possession, working their way upfield until Munster were forced to concede a penalty, the 19-year old fly-half making no mistake this time.
Ospreys hands in the ruck allowed Munster to his straight back, Keatley successful at the third attempt, allowing Varley to return to the field with the scores all square.
A high tackle on Morgan by Simon Zebo resulted in another Ospreys penalty, but this time the youngster was off target from a similar position to where he had scored minutes earlier.
Munster then took the lead in unusual circumstances, with a try from Doug Howlett. The Ospreys had been in possession on halfway but a turnover allowed Munster to break and with numbers out wide they looked odds on to score, Zebo outpacing Tommy Bowe only for Morgan to half his progress inside the 22. The ball was recycled and moved across field, and with a penalty advantage in their favour Will Chambers put a hopeful punt through. It took a deflection off the boot of Jonathan Thomas, spinning into the scoring area, and Howlett beat Fussell in the race to ground it, Keatley converting to make it 10-3 as 30 minutes approached.
A spell of concerted Ospreys pressure again resulted in a penalty, this time for offside, and after referee Peter Allan has issued a team warning to the Munster skipper, Morgan comfortably put over his second penalty of the night.
The breakdown was a real battle, with turnovers being won and lost on both sides, as the first half ended with the visitors just in front.
HALF-TIME: OSPREYS 6 MUNSTER 10
There was controversy minutes after the restart when Mr Allan called back the Ospreys for a knock-on as Fussell crossed for a try, but after being asked to refer to the TMO by captain Smith, the try was awarded.
The catalyst for the try was the unlikely form of Ian Gough, bursting through a tackle on halfway before offloading to Webb. His pass for Barry Davies just metres out was intercepted by a red hand, Fussell pouncing on the loose ball to score, with the try confirmed after an anxious wait to put the Ospreys back in front.
Morgan missed the conversion but the Ospreys feet were on their feet again shortly after a dazzling break by Ashley Beck, but the Munster defence were able to get across and cover.
Ospreys tails were up and the second try wasn’t long in coming, through scrum half Webb. He showed great awareness to take a quick tap penalty just 12m out and with the Munster defence retreating he was able to jink his way through in the corner. Morgan was again unsuccessful with his conversion attempt, leaving the score 16-10 with half an hour left to play.
An even affair with nothing between the two teams, a penalty against the Ospreys for illegally bringing down a maul just outside their 22 resulted in the experienced Ronan O’Gara, on for Keatley, to reduce the deficit to three points just after the hour.
However, illegal Munster hands at the ruck allowed Morgan to reply for the Ospreys almost immediately, taking the score up to 19-13.
With the clock ticking down, as you’d expect from Munster they were throwing everything at the Ospreys, whose defence was holding firm – if at times looking a little stretched. After a series of pick and drives close to the line, Donncha O’Callaghan looked to barge his way over from close range a low tackle from Cai Griffiths halting his progress, Munster eventually awarded a scrum five as the pressure on the Ospreys built with just 10 minutes left to play.
As a Munster drive went down, the decision was penalty to the visitors and the scrum was reset. For a second time the Ospreys were penalised, and Mr Allan called Griffiths and his skipper Smith across for a discussion before the two eights packed down once again.
Yet again it was reset, with the Ospreys players seemingly furious with the touch judge, and this time the ref spoke at length to both front rows. The Ospreys put in a huge disruptive shove, but as the scrum broke up the result was yet another penalty. Next time, the lottery draw went in the Ospreys favour as Mr Allan opted to award the Ospreys a penalty, allowing them to clear their lines to huge cheers from the Liberty Stadium crowd.
Having snatched vital late results in their two recent Heineken Cup matches, Munster could sniff a last-gasp victory once again, and they spent the closing minutes hammering on the Ospreys line but fierce defence from the hosts meant there was no way through, as they clung on to secure a famous victory.