Munster survive scare to give O'Connell rousing finale

By Simon Lewis, Thomond Park

Munster 21 Ospreys 18

Munster gave Paul O'Connell a rousing curtain call as they booked their place in next week's Guinness Pro12 after surviving an almighty scare form Ospreys in a pulsating semi-final at Thomond Park.

Ireland captain O'Connell, who seems set to move on after the World Cup in October, most likely into retirement or for a final fling in France, took a personal lap of honour after 80 minutes.

He was applauded off the field by his Munster team-mates as he waved to the 16,158 supporters giving him a standing ovation and appeared to bring to an end 14 seasons at the coalface in Thomond Park.

The 35-year-old still has one more game for his province in next Saturday's Pro12 final against Glasgow Warriors at Ravenhill in Belfast, but Munster's narrow victory could have come at a big price having lost scrum-half Conor Murray to a knee injury in the first half.

Captain Peter O'Mahony's afternoon was also limited to 43 minutes having overcome a hip injury to play and Simon Zebo was removed from the fray late on, while Keith Earls also appeared to be struggling with a hamstring problem.

It was Ospreys who started and finished the brighter, though. They dominated possession for long periods and in the first six minutes Dan Biggar missed a drop-goal attempt while wing Eli Walker was held up in the corner.

When Biggar opened the scoring in the 13th minute it was no more than the Welsh deserved and the loss of scrum-half Conor Murray just three minutes later to a knee injury added to the home apprehension.

Yet Munster did what they do best and clawed their way back into the game, Ian Keatley levelling the scores at 3-3 as Murray was exiting and then edging his province in front in the 23rd minute.

Keatley missed is third penalty attempt four minutes before the interval but his side still finished the opening period on top and in style, despite Ospreys having the better of the first 40. The visitors' troubles stemmed from an overcooked kick from Biggar.

Play went back to halfway and a Munster scrum and the red pack's previous set-piece dominance continued with telling effect. CJ Stander fed replacement scrum-half Duncan Williams who passed to Keatley, the fly-half making a half-break before passing behind him to Stander. The No.8 charged upfield, drew his man and passed left to fellow back-rower Paddy Butler who moved it onto Simon Zebo to finish a wonderful move with a try in the corner.

Keatley missed the conversion but Munster went in half-time with an 11-3 lead.

The second half got underway in helter skelter fashion with four tries in the first 15 minutes. Denis Hurley scored the first for Munster, only for Rhys Webb to intercept a Stander pass off the back of a scrum and bring the scores to 16-8.

Then Butler went up the other end to reopen the gap to 13 points but Ospreys continued to pose a threat and Jeff Hassler reduced the advantage again.

Tellingly, Biggar's conversion of that try was the only successful kick of the four and the Wales star added a penalty to leave the scores at 21-18.

Three missed conversions from Keatley were compounded by a badly missed penalty on 73 minutes when Munster dearly needed the breathing space of an added three points. He was called ashore shortly after but then replacement JJ Hanrahan missed his first shot at goal two minutes later.

So Munster continued to live on their wits and only just survived having left 14 points out on the pitch in missed kicks. As the clocked ticked agonisingly close to 80 minutes, Rhys Webb broke the home lines as referee Owens appeared to signal an Ospreys knock-on from the scrum-half.

Play continued and Josh Matavesi cut inside to score behind the posts. As the Welsh celebrated, Owens called for the TMO and his initial judgement was confirmed. Munster were of the hook and into the final.

MUNSTER: F Jones; K Earls, A Smith, D Hurley, S Zebo (R O'Mahony, 66); I Keatley (JJ Hanrahan, 73), C Murray (D Williams, 16); D Kilcoyne (J Ryan, 71), E Guinazu (D Casey, 71), S Archer (BJ Botha, 51); D Ryan, P O'Connell; P O'Mahony – captain (B Holland, 43), P Butler, CJ Stander.

Replacement not used: J O'Donoghue.

OSPREYS: D Evans; J Hassler, B John, J Matavesi, E Walker; D Biggar, R Webb; N Smith (M Thomas, 73), S Baldwin (S Parry, 54), D Arhip (A Jarvis, 57); T Ardron (R Thornton, 65), A W Jones - captain; D Lydiate (J King, h-t), J Tipuric, D Baker.

Replacements not used: T Habberfield, S Davies, J Spratt.

Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)


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