And Rassie Erasmus’ post-match smile said everything about how much this victory over Ospreys meant to him. A late try from Dave Kilcoyne ensured Munster came from behind to claim a narrow 23-25 success at the Liberty Stadium and move back to the summit of the Guinness PRO12 table.
But that fails to tell the full story of a see-saw encounter which saw Erasmus’ men forced to spend almost the entire the first on the back foot. At 17-3 down after just 24 minutes, Munster were up against it though the way they battled back into the game to eventually edge a tight encounter showed just how much character lies within this season’s squad.
A delighted Erasmus said: “The brand of rugby the Ospreys play is unbelievable. That’s why the win is particularly pleasing because it’s one of the toughest defensive challenges we’ve had. We’re very relieved. The game could have gone either way so to come away to a team which has been on such a good run and get the win is really pleasing. I feel if you win away games it gives you a lot of confidence. Even if we had lost this game we’d have taken positives from the way we fought back. The Ospreys were cutting us to pieces and they’re a difficult team to stop. They were running great lines and we made some silly errors in our half. The challenge now is to stop that.”
Tries from Hanno Dirksen and Kieron Fonotia and the boot of young Wales out-half Sam Davies had put a dominant Ospreys into a deserved early lead. At that stage, Munster had next to no ball and were being forced to defend for their lives.
The fact they made 105 tackles in the first half alone told its own story but despite soaking up wave after wave of home attack, Munster somehow managed to turn around just two points down. With the Ospreys overplaying in their own half, Jack O’Donoghue and Francis Saili powered over for two tries within five minutes and captain Tyler Bleyendaal added eight points with his right boot.
That gave Munster confidence at the start of the second period and after Davies kicked the Ospreys’ only points after half-time, it was the visitors who dominated the final quarter. Two Munster scores were ruled out by Italian TMO Stefano Penne, before prop Kilcoyne burrowed over from close range for the game’s vital moment with just two minutes remaining.
Bleyendaal still had to kick the conversion to seal victory but he held his nerve and did exactly that to break Welsh hearts. Munster are now three points clear of Leinster at the top, with Ospreys in third.
“We were under pressure in the first 15 minutes after going 17-3 down and we had to turn that around on to them,” Erasmus added.
“The tries just before half-time helped and we played better tactically in the second half. There are still a lot of things to rectify.
“The physicality wasn’t there in the first 15 minutes, but the boys realised that and turned it around. Sometimes it’s hard to do that.” Munster’s late sucker punch dealt the Ospreys a cruel blow and Welsh head coach Steve Tandy hit out at referee Marius Mitrea for his inconsistency in the tackle area. Tandy felt Saili should have been yellow carded and his team awarded a penalty try for a no-arms tackle on Ashley Beck. He was also aggrieved at the official’s failure to award a penalty with the final play of the game for what he saw as a high tackle on replacement s crum-half Brendon Leonard. Tandy did have a point, but deep down he’ll know his team played their own part in throwing away victory.
For Munster, attentions now turn to hosting the Scarlets at Thomond Park on Friday.
“This is an extremely tough place to get a win so we’re excited about that,” said captain Bleyendaal. “We’ll enjoy this one, but the Scarlets are a similar attacking threat to Ospreys. We take a lot of confidence from this. It probably wasn’t the greatest performance, but we stuck to it. We can be better and more accurate, but when you play a team like the Ospreys you can’t be perfect the whole time. It was a great result.”
Evans (Leonard 52); Giles (John 54), Fonotia, Beck, Dirksen; Davies, Habberfield (capt); Smith (James 63), Baldwin (Parry 54), Jones (Suter 58), Ashley (Ardron 66), Thornton, Cracknell (Baker 53), Underhill, King.
Keatley (Conway 46); Sweetman, Saili, Scannell, O’Mahony (Goggin 73); Bleyendaal (capt), Williams; Kilcoyne (McCabe 79), Marshall (O’Byrne 54), Ryan (Archer 75), O’Shea (Foley 46), Holland, O’Callaghan, O’Donnell (Oliver 71), O’Donoghue.
Marius Mitrea (Italy).