Munster sign off in style

WHEN sights were set on the highest peak, the substitute Magners League title might be construed as scant consolation after relinquishing a European crown; except somebody forgot to tell the loyal fans of Munster, close to 20,000 of them at Thomond Park last night.

The atmosphere was never going to match the European days in Cardiff of 2006 and 2008, but the supporters took the opportunity to thank this Munster team for their efforts throughout the season.

They hailed the contribution of departing favourites Anthony Horgan, Frankie Sheahan and Freddie Pucciariello, and stayed to enjoy the presentation of another trophy to the squad.

There was even a touch of the romantic about it, when Horgan signed off on a high with a marvellous try 90 seconds after his introduction as a 73rd minute replacement.

Sheahan wasn’t so fortunate and had to depart minutes after his arrival with a shoulder injury, but he too got a rousing send-off.

Munster didn’t need a result for the title was already in the bag, but they got it anyway; it was a comprehensive win in the end.

Having struggled to pull away from a gritty Ospreys side in the opening half, a two-try salvo in three minutes the early part of the second established total control and ensured they would finish the season with a bonus-point win.

The Ospreys really did come to play, but had to play second fiddle for most of the contest and Munster finally broke their spirit as they piled up the scores.

Ronan O’Gara and James Hook exchanged penalties early on, before Munster’s first try-scoring opportunity came when Keith Earls hacked through. He looked certain to score until his ankle appeared to be clipped illegally by Ryan Jones, though the Wales captain escaped sanction.

Seconds later, though, in the 14th minute, Munster did take back the lead with the opening try. Ian Dowling, Mick O’Driscoll, Pucciariello, Lifeimi Mafi and Doug Howlett all played a part before Paul Warwick cut through to score under the posts and O’Gara converted for a 10-3 lead.

But the Ospreys hit back in the 33rd minute, when Hook ripped the ball away from colleague Jonathan Spratt and raced in unopposed for a try at the posts that he converted himself.

Munster got back in front a couple of minutes later when Wallace drove over for a try after a five-metre scrum, and they held that lead to the break before building on it with that brace of tries afterwards. Denis Leamy charged over first, and then man-of-the-match Denis Fogarty sent Wallace in for his second try, both of them converted by O’Gara to establish a 29-10 lead.

Munster needed to be at their best defensively after that, especially when Wallace was sent to the bin for a rucking offence and Dowling brilliantly foiled Filo Tiatia by knocking him into touch in goal in the 63rd minute.

They survived and hit back, with the biggest cheer of the night reserved for Munster’s fifth try in the 73rd minute. Substitute Horgan was sent into space by Kieran Lewis, and the winger pinned back his ears to scythe through the Ospreys defence and score near the posts to sign off his illustrious Munster career, with O’Gara converting. !

As Munster celebrated the triumph, Lions coach Ian McGeechan will be glad for small favours. After a physically bruising encounter, his captain O’Connell, Wallace, Donncha O’Callaghan, Earls and O’Gara all emerged unscathed, a tough game behind them, a medal in the bag, and reputations once again enhanced after the disappointment of a losing Heineken Cup semi-final.

Scorers for Munster: D Wallace 2 tries; P Warwick, D Leamy, A Horgan try each; R O’Gara 4 cons, pen.

Scorers for Ospreys: J Hook try, con, pen.

MUNSTER: P Warwick, D Howlett, K Earls, L Mafi, I Dowling, R O’Gara, P Stringer, F Pucciariello, D Fogarty, T Buckley, M O’Driscoll, P O’Connell (capt); D Leamy, D Wallace, N Ronan.

Replacements: D O’Callaghan for O’Connell, D Ryan for Pucciariello (both 61), F Sheahan for Fogarty (67), A Horgan for Dowling, K Lewis for Earls, J O’Sullivan for Wallace (all 71), M Prendergast for Stringer (75),

OSPREYS: G Owen, A Beck, S Parker, J Spratt, D Evans, J Hook, J Nutbrown, P James, R Hibbard, C Griffiths, I Gough, A Lloyd, R Jones captain; F Tiatia, M Holah

Replacements: D Biggar for Owen (56), C Mitchell for Griffiths (61), S Tandy for Gough (65), D Jones for James (67), S Baldwin for Hibbard (73).

Referee: P Allan (Scotland).

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courtsrugbyplace: thomond parkplace: cardiffplace: scotlandperson: anthony horganperson: frankie sheahanperson: freddie pucciarielloperson: horganperson: sheahanperson: ronan o’garaperson: james hookperson: keith earlsperson: ryan jonesperson: ian dowlingperson: mick o’driscollperson: pucciarielloperson: lifeimi mafiperson: doug howlettperson: paul warwickperson: o’garaperson: hookperson: jonathan sprattperson: wallaceperson: denis leamyperson: denis fogartyperson: filo tiatiaperson: kieran lewisperson: ian mcgeechanperson: o’connellperson: donncha o’callaghanperson: earlsperson: warwickperson: leamyperson: rperson: j hookperson: p warwickperson: d howlettperson: k earlsperson: l mafiperson: i dowlingperson: r o’garaperson: p stringerperson: f pucciarielloperson: d fogartyperson: t buckleyperson: m o’driscollperson: p o’connellperson: d leamyperson: d wallaceperson: n ronanperson: d o’callaghanperson: d ryanperson: f sheahanperson: fogartyperson: dowlingperson: k lewisperson: j o’sullivanperson: m prendergastperson: stringerperson: g owenperson: beckperson: s parkerperson: j sprattperson: d evansperson: j nutbrownperson: p jamesperson: r hibbardperson: c griffithsperson: i goughperson: a lloydperson: r jonesperson: f tiatiaperson: m holahperson: d biggarperson: owenperson: c mitchellperson: griffithsperson: s tandyperson: goughperson: d jonesperson: jamesperson: s baldwinperson: hibbardperson: p allanevent: heineken cuporganisation: munsterorganisation: ospreysorganisation: walesorganisation: lions
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