Munster 33 Ospreys 6
Sean McMahon reporting from Thomond Park.
It was supposed to be a day of miracles but for Munster, their exit from this season’s Heineken Champions Cup was already confirmed before the players went to bed on Saturday night thanks to the failure of Lyon and Sale in claiming wins in their respective ties yesterday.
So for the 19,891 in Thomond Park on a beautifully sunny but desperately cold afternoon, they would have been seeking something, anything, to give them confidence for the remainder of the season where Munster will only be fighting on one front.
However, what they were offered for the opening 20 minutes of this match was anything but. It was the worst opening quarter Munster have played this season. They fell off tackles, their scrum was under severe pressure, their breakdown work lacked aggression and was inaccurate while they were blunt and lacking imagination when they did have ball in hand.
The inaccuracy was summed up perfectly by Jack O’Donoghue and Conor Murray both leaping into the air to claim the same ball.
However, their second-half performance was much improved and the introduction of Jack O’Sullivan, Ben Healy and try-scorer Craig Casey will give Munster supporters departing Thomond Park this afternoon will provide a glimmer of optimism going forward.
Their poor discipline led to the Ospreys taking a 0-6 lead which could have been a 0-9 lead but for Cai Evans missing a penalty on 20 minutes.
The first penalty for Ospreys was as a result of Fineen Wycherley putting a late hit on Luke Price. The Ospreys out-half received treatment for some time before regathering himself to kick the points to give his side a 0-3 lead after eight minutes on the clock.
Six minutes later, Peter O’Mahony was penalised at the scrum and Price obliged from the tee once again to his side a 0-6 lead.
Another penalty conceded at the scrum saw fullback Evans line up a long-range effort but drifted wide to the right and it was from this point where Munster finally upped the intensity at the very least, yet they were still inaccurate in many aspects of their play.
The response began with Mike Haley superbly collecting his own garryowen which was quickly followed by Dave Kilcoyne breaking through the Ospreys line to get the Thomond Park crowd off their feet for the first time in the match.
The move ultimately broke down when the referee got in the way of the ball and then from the resulting scrum, Munster made good ground and found themselves within metres of the Ospreys line only for the Welsh side to win a turnover only to further add to the clear frustration of those in attendance.
However, it was a sign that Munster were finally getting to grips with this game. They scored two tries in the final 10 minutes of the first half.
The first came from CJ Stander after Sammy Arnold and Conor Murray made some good ground in the Ospreys 22.
Then, on the stroke of halftime, Stephen Archer crossed for Munster’s second after Stander made a powerful carry which brought play inches short of the Ospreys line.
Johann van Graan’s side went into the halftime break with a 14-6 lead but knowing that they still need to improve considerably to allay the anxiety that was sweeping around the famous Limerick venue.
On the resumption, Munster were immediately on the front foot thanks to a break from Jack O’Donoghue after an offload from Haley. However, the backup didn’t come quick enough for Munster as Alun Wyn Jones won the turnover on the deck.
Munster did get their third try on 48 minutes when Conor Murray saw space on the blindside of a ruck close to the line. The scrum-half, who is under pressure from Ulster’s John Cooney for the starting nine shirt against Scotland in two weeks’ time, picked the ball up and dived for the line before the Welsh side could react.
Rory Scannell looked to have Munster’s bonus-point win wrapped up after 55 minutes but the Cork man spilled the ball when attempting a grounding after Sammy Arnold sent him clear through after a deft offload.
Munster had the advantage though and they eventually secured the bonus-point try through substitute scrum-half Craig Casey.
The Limerick man picked the ball from the base of the scrum, stepped inside his man to cross for his first try for the southern province.
Unfortunately for Casey, he went off for a HIA six minutes after his introduction and he was replaced by European debutant, Ben Healy.
Casey did return for the final 10 minutes of that match and in that time, Stander crossed for Munster’s fifth try off the back of a powerful scrum effort from his side.
Munster: Mike Haley (Healy 69′); Andrew Conway (Goggin 11′), Sammy Arnold, Rory Scannell, Calvin Nash; JJ Hanrahan, Conor Murray (Casey 58′ HIA (Healy 64′) (Murray 67′) (Casey 74′)); Dave Kilcoyne (Loughman 67′), Niall Scannell (O’Byrne 68′), Stephen Archer (Ryan 54′); Fineen Wycherley, Billy Holland (Botha 67′); Peter O’Mahony (C) (O’Sullivan 60′), Jack O’Donoghue, CJ Stander.
Replacements: Kevin O’Byrne, Jeremy Loughman, John Ryan, Arno Botha, Jack O’Sullivan, Craig Casey, Ben Healy, Dan Goggin.
Ospreys: Cai Evans, Hanno Dirksen, George North, Dan Evans (Cross 56′), Luke Morgan, Luke Price, Shaun Venter, Nicky Smith, Scott Otten, Ma’afu Fia (Gajion 56′), Bradley Davies, Alun Wyn Jones (Ashley 78′), Dan Lydiate, Justin Tipuric (Cracknell 40′ Tipuric 44′ HIA), Dan Baker (Cracknell 54′).
Replacements: Sam Parry, Darryl Marfo, Gheorghe Gajion, Lloyd Ashley, Olly Cracknell, Sam Cross, Reuben Morgan-Williams, Cai Evans.