Having trailed 6-0 after 14 minutes, Munster added their points in sevens to take a 14-6 lead into the break but it was not until Conor Murray pounced off the back of a ruck in 47th minute that the home side truly put this game beyond Ospreys in front of 19,891, the biggest crowd of the weekend in the Champions Cup. Not bad for a dead rubber.
The European campaign was over before kick-off thanks to results the previous day in other pools but Munster went out with a bonus-point win and a nod to the future as Fineen Wycherley made his first Champions Cup start, and there were Euro debuts for Calvin Nash, Jack O’Sullivan, Ben Healy and scrum-half Craig Casey, whose first involvement of the bench was a delightful show and go off a scrum to wrongfoot Dan Lydiate and steal in for a maiden try. Enough to cheer Munster hearts on an otherwise disappointing day with an important second-half of the PRO14 campaign still to encounter.
With Ulster’s John Cooney breathing down his neck for the Ireland number nine jersey, Conor Murray picked the right time to put in a try-scoring man of the match performance, though whether it will be enough to hang onto his spot for the Six Nations opener against Scotland on February 1, only Andy Farrell will know.
Mathieu Raynal takes his time reaching a decision but the French official invariably ended up with the right call. Munster’s discipline in the first half was again a cause for concern as they handed Ospreys an early 6-0 lead, eventually conceding seven penalties before the interval.
Munster 9 Ospreys 6
Munster were forced into a late change to their starting line-up when Ireland centre Chris Farrell was withdrawn due bruising on his knee, Sammy Arnold moving straight into the 13 jersey from outside the matchday squad.
There was a further rejig of the home backline when Andrew Conway was forced off in the 11th minute and failed a Head Injury Assessment after a nasty contact with George North’s hip during a tackle.
With the Six Nations up next on the rugby calendar, Munster are without a game for the next three weekends, save for the eight players called up to Andy Farrell’s Ireland squad, which begins the 2020 championship at home to Scotland on February 1. The province resumes its Guinness PRO14 campaign on Friday, February 14 at home to the Southern Kings in Cork.
There was no Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final on the line but Thomond Park was treated to a glimpse of the future as Craig Casey’s first senior try helped Munster pick up a 33-6 bonus-point win over Ospreys.
CJ Stander started and finished the try-scoring with a well-taken brace, while Stephen Archer, Conor Murray, and his 20-year-old replacement Casey also crossed to confirm the Welsh side’s sixth Pool 4 defeat.
Two early Luke Price penalties had Ospreys ahead but Stander and Archer nudged Munster into a 14-6 half-time lead and the southern province’s increasing control saw them extend their unbeaten home run in Europe to 15 games.
Results yesterday had knocked Johann van Graan’s men out of the quarter-final race, while Ospreys also had just pride to play for following a disheartening pool campaign.
Boosted by the inclusion of captain Justin Tipuric, Alun Wyn Jones and George North, the visitors started well and Price landed a seventh-minute kick from just inside the Munster 10-metre line after being caught with a late tackle.
The 24-year-old fly-half doubled the lead when punishing a Peter O’Mahony scrum infringement, before Nicky Smith’s scrummaging earned another shot but Cai Evans’ monster penalty attempt fell wide.
Apart from some individual spark, Munster endured a sloppy opening quarter and lost Andrew Conway to a failed HIA. Knee injury victims Keith Earls and Chris Farrell were also absent from the back-line.
Things finally clicked for the hosts as the interval approached. Sam Arnold and lively replacement Dan Goggin both featured in the lead up to the tries, the former’s strong run getting Munster in position for Stander to burrow over from a ruck.
Goggin’s excellent fielding of a JJ Hanrahan cross-field kick drew one of the biggest cheers from the home crowd, Munster using the late momentum to pummel away and a well-supported Archer grounded the ball against the right-hand post for his first European try.
Hanrahan converted both scores to open up an eight-point margin, and after Jones and impressive Champions Cup debutant Calvin Nash each won a turnover penalty on the resumption, the Munstermen swept clear for their third try.
Hanrahan and Arnold both pumped their legs to bring their side within reach of the line before Murray had a simple finish near the right corner. Hanrahan’s conversion effort was off-target.
The bonus point try proved elusive – Rory Scannell and Haley both had near misses – until, with 58 minutes gone, promising scrum half Casey cleverly stepped inside Dan Lydiate at a five-metre scrum to score with just his second touch in a European home game.
Hanrahan converted and also added the extras to Stander’s 77th-minute closer, a powerful finish past Price from an advancing scrum. Ospreys had no answer, their defiant defence losing Dan Evans to a nasty shoulder injury and replacement Olly Cracknell to a late yellow card.
M Haley (B Healy, 68); A Conway (D Goggin, 11), S Arnold, R Scannell, C Nash; JJ Hanrahan, C Murray (C Casey, 57 - HIA; Healy 64-67 - HIA; Casey, 73); D Kilcoyne (J Loughman, 66), N Scannell (K O'Byrne, 67) , S Archer (J Ryan, 53); F Wycherley, B Holland (A Botha, 66); P O'Mahony - captain (J O'Sullivan, 59), J O'Donoghue, CJ Stander.
C Evans; H Dirksen (L Klim, 79), G North, D Evans (S Cross, 56), L Morgan; L Price, S Venter; N Smith (D Marfo, 67), S Otten (D Lake, 67), M Fia (G Gajion, 56); B Davies, A W Jones (L Ashley, 79); D Lydiate, J Tipuric - captain (O Cracknell, 40-43 - HIA), D Baker (O Cracknell, 54).
Mathieu Raynal (France)