The Ospreys kept their Heineken Cup hopes alive with a narrow victory over Munster at the Liberty Stadium that was built on a gutsy effort from the forwards.
With two games to go there’s everything to play for in the pool, with just three points separating leaders Toulon, Munster and the Ospreys.
Despite the wintry conditions, the Liberty Stadium pitch was in perfect condition as the teams took the field. The difficult travelling conditions clearly meant that a large number of ticket holders had been unable to make it to the game, but one thing that was obvious as Munster got the game underway was those that had braved the elements were certainly up for it as the two sets of supporters looked to win the off-field battle.
Munster were the first team on the scoreboard, Ronan O’Gara with a simple kick after the Ospreys were penalised for offside in the fifth minute.
The hosts struggled to get into their rhythm in the early stages and a Denis Leamy chargedown from a Phillips clearance in the Ospreys 22 led to an attacking scrum five to Munster. The Ospreys were under pressure, and referee Romain Poite twice penalised them in the scrum, Munster opting to reset the set-piece. At the third attempt though a massive drive from the Ospreys pack saw Munster’s scrum buckle to huge cheers from the crowd, the penalty going the way of the hosts, allowing Biggar to clear.
The Ospreys understandably took real confidence from that and were able to settle, enjoying more territory and possession, and they levelled through Dan Biggar in the 17th minute after Donnacha O’Callaghan was guilty of tackling Ryan Jones in the air at the lineout.
O’Gara then had a chance to restore the Munster lead with a straightforward looking penalty on the 10m line but the Lions fly-half didn’t get enough distance on his effort which dropped five metres short.
Munster did retake the lead as the game moved into the second quarter, the first try of the afternoon going to prop Tony Buckley. Sam Tuitupou and Denis Leamy both breaking through ineffective tackling before Buckley stretched to ground it under the posts, O’Gara converting.
The Ospreys came straight back at Munster, and with the referee playing advantage they were able to work the ball across the field to Barry Davies who was held up just short. The ball was recycled, and Mike Phillips, wgo was sniping at the back of the ruck, was able to force his way over from close range, the try confirmed by the TMO. Biggar’s conversion made it all square again with 25 gone.
It was absorbing stuff with no quarter asked or given, exactly what the Heineken Cup is about.
Just as was the case last weekend, the Ospreys appeared to have the upper hand in the scrum, and Biggar was able to edge his side ahead four minutes before the break after Munster were penalised at the setpiece.
HALF-TIME: OSPREYS 13 MUNSTER 10
Munster enjoyed the more positive start after the break, working their way through multiple phases, really hammering on the Ospreys line but the hosts defence was strong, holding up a Munster drive on the line, resulting in a scrum five. Again the red pressure came in waves, but again the Ospreys were able to frustrate the Munster pack, eventually winning the turnover, Biggar’s clearance relieving the pressure to huge cheers.
After absorbing huge pressure the Ospreys were able to push forward for a rare foray into Munster territory, and they made it pay, Biggar with a long-range penalty that just had the length after Munster hands in the ruck.
Munster struck back with a counter attack that resulted in a Keith Earls try in the corner, the ball moved across the backline to Doug Howlett and his chip forward bounced perfectly for Earls who went over unchallenged to score. O’Gara could have put his side back in front but his conversion attempt from the touchline struck the upright leaving it 16-15 to the Ospreys with 20 to go.
It was delicately poised, but the Ospreys were able to take their lead to four points through another Biggar penalty after Munster offended at the scrum once again.
Another massive scrum from the Ospreys on a Munster put-in at halfway then saw Monsieur Poite award a penalty to the men in black, to the delighted of the Ospreys faithful.
As Munster looked for the score that would steal the win away from the Ospreys, Mike Phillips was able to gather loose ball in his own 22 and clear deep into opposition territory, and a good chase forced Munster into conceding a scrum, where once again the Ospreys pack were too strong for them and a penalty was awarded.
From there, the last five minutes were played out deep inside the Munster 22, with the Ospreys winning a series of penalties, leading to a yellow for Lifeimi Mafi at the death, as Munster held on for a bonus point.
Ospreys Rugby acknowledges that there were a significant number of supporters who were unable to attend today's game despite having already purchased a match ticket, due to the adverse weather conditions in the area over the last 48 hours.
With the pitch playable and Munster having arrived in Swansea on Friday, under ERC tournament regulations, the match had to go ahead as scheduled.
The Ospreys Board will be meeting early next week to consider an appropriate course of action in respect of ticket holders who could not get to the stadium due to the weather situation, and would advise anyone affected to retain their match ticket as evidence that they were unable to attend.We would ask you to be patient about this, and to look out for a statement regarding ths situation over the next few days.