Tony McGahan gambled on the 21-year-old to help solve midfield difficulties Munster have had this season, and the all-action No 13 came up trumps.
If Barnes’ two try performance was the start of something special, the pity was that there was only around 13,000 there to see it; it was unprecedented to watch Munster play a big competitive match at Thomond Park, with gaps in both stands and with terraces closed to restrict the crowd. Yet Barnes helped generate a welcome hum of excitement with a succession of breaks and two tries to help his side eventually convert an emphatic territorial advantage into a seven point win.
The youngster complemented his attacking prowess with a sound defensive display that offered the holders little opportunity to shine in a one-sided contest.
McGahan’s faith in Barnes was vindicated and the coach admitted it had been a remarkable performance from the relative newcomer. “He (Barnes) had an excellent game last week too (v Connacht),” said McGahan. “We needed somebody to be really solid in defence and carry the ball forward, he was really enthusiastic in the kick/chase and he was duly rewarded with a try from a chargedown. Everyone is delighted for him.”
It leaves Barnes in pole position to take the number 13 jersey against Leinster in the final on Saturday week.
Whilst conceding there are aspects of his game to be worked on, McGahan described Barnes as a “cool customer” who wouldn’t be fazed at having to mark Brian O’Driscoll in the decider.
Munster’s display deserved better than a seven point win and they will doubtless be concerned it took a chargedown try to finally put the Ospreys to the sword. But Munster will reflect happily on their set piece play; they prospered through their vigorous challenge in the scrums, and they won a huge amount of possession from the forward exchanges, helped considerably by their ability to turn the visitors over at lineout time.
They dominated the opening half from start to finish and the wonder of it all was that they weren’t further ahead than the five point buffer (8-3) they had at the break. Barnes grabbed the only try with Ronan O’Gara and Daniel Biggar exchanging penalties, Biggar also saving an injury-time try by David Wallace, who was just held up over the line.
O’Gara and Biggar exchanged penalties after the break before Barnes blocked down an attempted clearance from Richard Fussell, picked up and scored the crucial try that O’Gara converted for an 18-6 advantage.
Wallace was denied a second try when he lost the ball over the Ospreys line and Doug Howlett had a chance after an audacious pass from Lifeimi Mafi just failed to bounce into his grasp.
With the benches near empty and the game effectively over, the holders threw everything into attack and got a 77th minute try from Fussell to put the visitors in the faintly ridiculous position of being within a converted try at the death.
The fans could have done without O’Gara kicking for position from a penalty as the clock went red; 20 phases later, the home side were looking panicky in defence until the movement finally broke down and referee Nigel Owens signalled the end.
MUNSTER: F Jones, D Howlett, D Barnes, L Mafi, K Earls, R O’Gara, C Murray, M Horan, D Varley, J Hayes, D O’Callaghan, P O’Connell (captain), D Ryan, J Coughlan, D Wallace.
Replacements: P Stringer for Murray, W du Preez for Horan, M Sherry for Varley (all 54), D Leamy for Coughlan (60), S Archer for Hayes (63), S Zebo for Barnes (73), N. Ronan for Leamy (74, injured).
OSPREYS: R Fussell, T Bowe, A Bishop, J Hook, N Walker, D Biggar, R Webb, P James, H Bennett, A Jones, I Gough, A W Jones (captain), R Jones, J Thomas, J Tipuric.
Replacements: A Beck for Hook (30), R Hibbird for Bennett (46), J Collins for Gough (50), T Isaacs for Webb (54), R Bevington for James (61), M Holah for R Jones (64), T Smith for Tipuric, C Griffiths for Jones (both 73)
Referee: N Owens (Wales).