A shaky climb to top for Munster

Munster 13 Neath/Swansea Ospreys 9

The good for Munster was an eighth successive Celtic League victory, edging them into joint leadership of the League.

The bad was an inability to make an extra man pay for the 50-odd minutes the Ospreys were without their No 8, Ryan Jones. He brought the ugly element to proceedings with a 37th minute stamp on Donncha O'Callaghan's head.

Scottish referee Iain Ramage spotted the offence and flashed an immediate red card. It seems certain Jones will miss the Heineken Cup clash between the same teams next month.

While the points were ensured by Frankie Sheahan's 72nd minute try, Munster shouldn't crow too loudly.

The Ospreys' bonus point meant they still lead at the top of the League on points difference. Their ability to frustrate the 15 strong Munster side was a further indication that they won't lie down in Thomond Park on January 8th.

Admitted Munster coach, Alan Gaffney: "We didn't perform as well as we might, our discipline wasn't what I would have expected but the conditions were such that it was very hard to set up the kind of chances we wanted to create.

"There wasn't much point in trying to shift the ball out wide in conditions like that and so our options were limited. The Ospreys defended well but they didn't have to contend with defending out wide - where they might have been stretched if the weather conditions were more suitable.

"We're a better side than that - we'll put it down to experience and the good things are that we won and that we showed patience in trying to break them down. I'm happy where we are in the table now. After round three, having lost two and drawn one, there were huge odds on us. Now, here we are challenging for the title."

Gaffney hasn't given much thought to the more important re-match, but noted it was likely to be another close encounter. "We've met three times this season. They cleaned us out in St. Helens when we were understrength, but in the last two games there has been a total of just six points between us. That just about sums up how difficult it will be for us, even in Limerick."

For the moment, the focus is on Connacht and Leinster over the next fortnight. "These are two important games for us and neither will be easy. We were lucky to scrape a draw with Connacht earlier in the competition and Leinster are likely to be at full strength when we meet them on January 1. That should be interesting to say the least."

It was a memorable night for centre Mike Mullins, making his 100th appearance for the province.

"I would be happier if we won by more and had created something special to match the occasion, but we set out to win and we managed that. It's important in the overall context of the league and a good boost before the Heineken Cup resumes next month.

"The Ospreys will probably claim they lost because they had only 14 players the entire second half, but I think we can play much better than that. For a start, we gave away too many penalties, for whatever reason, and that didn't help. We allowed them scoring opportunities and we denied ourselves chances as well. It was pretty frustrating out there, and Gavin Henson kept them in the match."

Henson certainly did play a bit role as the determined Ospreys set out their stall early on. Ronan O'Gara kicked Munster into the lead but the burly centre responded instantly and then kicked his side into the lead with a second penalty before the break.

Five minutes into the second half he added another before O'Gara responded with his second. Munster dominated possession and territory after that but failed to ram home the advantage. Sheahan's try, inevitably coming off a rolling maul, gave Munster the lead and O'Gara added the extra points to stretch the lead out to four points, a lead that was not remotely threatened in the last 12 minutes.

MUNSTER: C. Cullen, S. Payne, M. Mullins, R. Henderson, P. Devlin, R. O'Gara (captain), P. Stringer, M. Horan, F. Sheahan, G. McIlwham, T. Bowman, D. O'Callaghan, A. Quinlan, J. Williams, D. Leamy. Replacement. T. Hogan for Bowman (63).

NEATH/SWANSEA OSPREYS: A. Durston, E. Seveali'i, S. Parker, G. Henson, S. Williams, M. Jones, J. Spice, P. James, R. Hibbard, A. Jones, A. Newman, J. Thomas, J. Bater (captain), R. Jones, S. Tandy. Replacements. C. Wells for Hibbard (60), A. Millard for Jones, B. Cockbain for Mewman (both 66), R. Pugh for Tandy (76), A. Lloyd for Bater (80).

Referee: I. Ramage (Scotland).

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