Ospreys give shaky Munster a wake-up call

ONE of Munster’s few consolations after their second successive Magners League defeat at their once impregnable Thomond Park fortress is that they rarely play well in the week prior to a crucial Heineken Cup game.

By their own admission, they were well beaten by a talented and fired up Ospreys side that performed with the class, commitment and sense of purpose lacking too often in the past meetings of the sides.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom for Munster who, as the Ospreys coach Sean Holley insisted, can learn from this experience. After all, they only lost by one score and had Ronan O’Gara been more accurate – he missed two out of six while opposite number Dan Biggar knocked over five out of five – would almost certainly have won.

Then there is the standard of refereeing in the Magners League. It is well below what is required in a competition that has received such a massive impetus from the introduction of the play-offs this season. England’s Dave Pearson will surely be a far more acceptable official in the Heineken Cup semi-final in San Sebastian on Sunday than Neil Paterson was in Limerick on Saturday night. And although coach Tony McGahan and centre Jean de Villiers dismissed the notion, there was a feeling that Munster’s primary focus had switched to the massive test against Biarritz.

The Ospreys deserved their win, even if they had to rely on the boot of Biggar for all of their scores. It shouldn’t be overlooked that the Ospreys put eight Lions on the park on Saturday night along with three All Blacks. Couple those compelling statistics with the fact that they only have the Magners League to occupy their attentions following their elimination from the Heineken Cup.

The Welsh region have taken second place in the league and look set for a home semi-final even though their final outing is against their vastly improved neighbours, the Dragons. Munster were left with a losing bonus point but they are now back in fourth with McGahan conceding that qualification for the play-offs could be out of their own control regardless of how they fare in their final match against the Blues in Cardiff.

The coach also agreed that Munster would benefit hugely by the return of their walking wounded. Paul O’Connell’s availability for Biarritz remains the chief topic of speculation.

Without in any way disparaging the outstanding efforts of his replacement, Mick O’Driscoll, the pack clearly needs O’Connell’s presence to add a bit of freshness, fire and leadership but I doubt that it will be forthcoming on Sunday.

Should that be the case, further responsibility will rest on the shoulders of O’Driscoll, Donncha O’Callaghan and their forward colleagues. The scrum fared quite well against the Ospreys although not a whole lot was seen of the front-row trio otherwise. David Wallace started off with a few thundering runs and Alan Quinlan, too, looked in great shape but even they were gradually reined in by an outstanding Ospreys defence.

And there is no escaping the feeling that Denis Leamy remains a massive loss to the side.

Another worrying feature of Saturday’s game was O’Gara’s poor goal kicking. Neither he nor the team need him to get the yips at this stage of the season although when the chips are down, there is no better man to deliver. His all-round game was solid enough and he took his try-scoring opportunity with relish.

Tomás O’Leary clearly remains a key man at number nine although the team hardly suffered when Peter Stringer was introduced for the closing stages.

Lifeimi Mafi looks like a man stung into action by his relegation to the bench for recent big matches and he certainly put his hand up for inclusion next week with some scintillating bursts.

The relatively untried Tom Gleeson, who played a major role in O’Gara’s try, and Scott Deasy again revealed their potential.

MUNSTER: P. Warwick; T Gleeson, L Mafi, J De Villiers, S Deasy; R O’Gara capt T O’Leary; M Horan, J Flannery, J Hayes; D O’Callaghan, M O’Driscoll; A Quinlan, D Wallace, J Coughlan.

Replacements: D Hurley for Warwick (58); N. Ronan for Wallace (62); D. Varley, J. Brugnaut and P. Stringer for Flannery, Horan and O’Leary, (all 64).

OSPREYS: L. Byrne; T. Bowe, A. Bishop, J. Hook, S. Williams; D. Biggar, M. Phillips; P. James, H. Bennett, A. Jones, I. Gough, J. Thomas, J. Collins, M. Holah, R. Jones capt.

Replacements: A. Wyn-Jones for Gough (ht); S. Parker for Byrne (61); R. Bevington for James (75); F. Tiatia for Holah (76).

Referee: Neil Paterson (Scotland).

More in this section

CourtsRugbyMagners LeaguePlace: Thomond ParkPlace: San SebastianPlace: LimerickPlace: CardiffPerson: Sean HolleyPerson: Ronan O’GaraPerson: Dan BiggarPerson: Dave PearsonPerson: Neil PatersonPerson: Tony McGahanPerson: Jean De VilliersPerson: McGahanPerson: Paul O’ConnellPerson: Mick O’DriscollPerson: O’ConnellPerson: O’DriscollPerson: Donncha O’CallaghanPerson: David WallacePerson: Alan QuinlanPerson: Denis LeamyPerson: O’GaraPerson: Tomás O’LearyPerson: Peter StringerPerson: Lifeimi MafiPerson: Tom GleesonPerson: Scott DeasyPerson: P. WarwickPerson: T GleesonPerson: L MafiPerson: J de VilliersPerson: S DeasyPerson: R O’GaraPerson: T O’LearyPerson: M HoranPerson: J FlanneryPerson: J HayesPerson: D O’CallaghanPerson: M O’DriscollPerson: A QuinlanPerson: D WallacePerson: J CoughlanPerson: D HurleyPerson: WarwickPerson: N. RonanPerson: WallacePerson: D. VarleyPerson: J. BrugnautPerson: P. StringerPerson: FlanneryPerson: HoranPerson: O’LearyPerson: L. ByrnePerson: T. BowePerson: A. BishopPerson: J. HookPerson: S. WilliamsPerson: D. BiggarPerson: M. PhillipsPerson: P. JamesPerson: H. BennettPerson: A. JonesPerson: I. GoughPerson: J. ThomasPerson: J. CollinsPerson: M. HolahPerson: R. JonesPerson: A. Wyn-JonesPerson: GoughPerson: S. ParkerPerson: ByrnePerson: R. BevingtonPerson: JamesPerson: F. TiatiEvent: Magners LeagueEvent: Heineken CupOrganisation: OspreysOrganisation: MunsterOrganisation: BiarritzOrganisation: LionsOrganisation: All BlacksOrganisation: Magners LeagueOrganisation: DragonsOrganisation: Blues
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