Munster left with plenty to ponder

THE SNOW may still be thick on the ground but the fog is at last beginning to clear as far as the Heineken Cup Pool Three qualification picture is concerned.

Defeat with a losing bonus point at Ospreys on Saturday leaves Munster needing two wins from their final two games in January and if they are to get anything out of that trip to Toulon and the visit of London Irish, there will need to be plenty of hard work put in over the next four weeks by the Munster scrummaging unit.

At least they won't have to face Ospreys again, whose forwards gained revenge for the injustice they perceived at the hands of referee Christophe Berdos at Thomond Park six days prior to their 19-15 victory at Liberty Stadium.

Munster's scrum creaked in Swansea under pressure from Adam Jones, Richard Hibberd and Paul James, the loosehead whose sin-binning by Berdos in Limerick proved the spark for Munster's victory and Welsh ire.

Adam Jones earned plaudits with a man of the match display - a rare distinction for a prop - but it was that sort of afternoon and for Munster fans it was one to prompt memories of previous failings in Europe.

Tony McGahan certainly acknowledged the shortcomings post-match and that further improvements must be made in addition to the progress the head coach feels has already been taken.

“We had a couple of bad days last year too and I’m not going to hide away from that. We’ve certainly made progress in the scrum since,” he said. “We don’t have the best one around, but we don’t have the worst either.

“We’re still working really hard on it because it’s such a big part of the game. It’s the platform you play off physically, but also mentally. If you’re going backwards in scrums or you’re not getting any ball to come out, it has an affect on your game.

“There’s not too many teams who can play without a good scrum and we certainly came up short this evening.”

Munster captain Denis Leamy felt the set-piece contest was lost to Ospreys and just as the Welsh side had been outraged by Monsieur Berdos the week before, he could not resist mention of Saturday's official Romain Poite.

“From the off our scrum was definitely second best. It’s a huge area, the set piece, and it was one area we fell down in. We can have no complaints.

“The ref could see a lot and he took a lot of decisions against us which hurt badly. Everyone will look at the front row but we’ve got to take this on as a forward pack, look at ourselves and be a lot better than we were today.

“You have to give Opsreys a little bit of credit. Obviously they did a lot during the week and they came back.”

Nor would Leamy point the finger at his front row of Wian du Preez, Damien Varley and Tony Buckley, adhering to the principal of collective responsibility.

“There was room to improve last week and I think we probably weren’t as good as we needed to be. We came out second best but I’m not going to criticise our front row. As a pack we have to look at it and sort it out.”

As far as McGahan was concerned the fault lay in Munster's mindset.

“It’s about attitude and I felt they got the hit really early. They were really smart about the way they went about their things and were certainly in control from the first scrum and right the way through.”

McGahan's opposite number certainly felt so, with Ospreys director of rugby, Scott Johnson, pointing to his forwards' big day as a crucial factor in their victory.

“The scrum set the tone. But sometimes when you have such set-piece dominance the flow of the game seems to cease a little bit because there’s a lot of resets, a lot of pressure in there and Dan Biggar did really well to convert. “Sometimes you can have a lot of chances from scrum dominance but you don’t convert, so I thought he did really well from that end.”

And yet Munster will go into round five on the weekend of January 15 a point better off than Ospreys, thanks to another losing bonus point. London Irish boss Toby Booth dismissed Munster's add-on in the opening round but how he would like a few of them the Irish province has amassed over the years.

One more at the weekend keeps the pressure on Toulon and Ospreys at bay, just.

There is, as expected, all to play for.

Scorers for Ospreys: Tries: M. Phillips. Cons: Biggar. Pens: Biggar 4.

Scorers for Munster: Tries: Buckley, Earls. Cons: O’Gara. Pens: O’Gara.

OSPREYS: B Davies; N Walker, T Bowe, J Hook, R Fussell; D Biggar, M Phillips; P James, R Hibbard, A Jones; R Jones, A Jones; J Collins, M Holah, J Thomas.

Replacements: Bishop for B. Davies (77), D. Jones for James (65), Gough for R. Jones (65

MUNSTER: P Warwick; D Howlett, K Earls, S Tuitupou, J. Murphy; R O’Gara, T O’Leary; W du Preez, D Varley, T Buckley; D. O’Callaghan, M O’Driscoll; J Coughlan, D Wallace, D Leamy.

Replacements: L Mafi for Tuitupou (66), P Stringer for O’Leary (55), J Hayes for Buckley (53), D. Ryan for D. O’Callaghan (70), A Quinlan for Coughlan (55).

Sin Bin: Mafi (80).

Referee: Romain Poite (France).

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