Munster 12 Ospreys 6
Sporting wisdom has it that a mark of a great side is their ability to grind out a result when the odds are against them.
A team may be understrength and not playing particularly well but there is still something in the DNA that finds a way to get the job done.
There is still some way to go before this current Munster side are considered a great one, it needs a couple of European trophies, never mind league titles, before that honour is earned. Yet in eking out back-to-back victories over stubborn
opposition with performances of equal grit and determination, the province may just have taken a step in the right direction towards the sort of consistency that delivers silverware.
Following a 13-6 victory over then Pro12 leaders Glasgow in Scotstoun 10 days ago, Munster assumed the role of table-toppers and welcomed second-placed Ospreys to Limerick on Saturday night.
Moving one step forward only to fall two steps back has been a frustrating feature of the Rob Penney era at Munster, not least last month when a long-awaited league win over Leinster was followed by a miserable Heineken Cup defeat at Edinburgh.
Those of a pessimistic persuasion might have expected something similar from the men in red after the previous weekend’s defensive heroics in Glasgow, but in the cold and rain of Thomond Park there came the surprise of a repeat — a hard-fought and deserved win built on resolve, albeit at the late concession of a losing bonus point for Ospreys.
Munster’s points came from three three-pointers from starting No 10 Ian Keatley and an additional score by his replacement, JJ Hanrahan, enough to see them past a side which have found Limerick a happy hunting ground with two wins and a draw in their last four regular season visits.
There had been a disallowed try for both sides, first Ivan Dineen’s fine effort in breaking a couple of tackles to score under the posts was ruled out just before half time because the scrum it stemmed from was not properly completed, TMO Jude Quinn ruling the ball had emerged from the same channel it had entered.
More clear-cut was the double movement from the bottom of a ruck by Ospreys scrum-half Tito Tebaldi 10 minutes into the second half which would have given the Welsh region the lead for the first time, having trailed 6-3 at the interval.
It was pretty ordinary fare and not helped by countless scrum resets that added to the stop-start nature of a game that never ignited, none of which seemed to bother head coach Penney, whose team heads into the Test break a point ahead of Glasgow at the top of the table. Perhaps more meaningfully, Munster are also 10 points better off — on 26 with six wins from seven — than they were at the same stage of the season in 2012-13.
“Not a classic performance by any means but probably this time last year we would have struggled to come out on top of ones like those,” Penney admitted.
“The pleasing thing is that the group’s able to, even in difficult conditions and on a tough night, come out with a result, which is what you’re about this time of year.”
The message is clear. This is a period of the season to grind out results, and Penney believes his players are better able to deliver now.
“It’s part of the learning that goes on and it’s crucial because you’re going to get times when you’ve just got to tough it out. There’s no lack of character in the group and no lack of that toughness and it’s just a bit about game management which was lacking last year at some points, which cost us.
“That game management has been plain for everyone to see that it’s improved out of sight.”
Stringing another couple of back-to-back wins together at Cardiff and the Dragons when league action resumes at the end of the month will tell us if those grounds for optimism are well-founded.
MUNSTER: F Jones; J Murphy, C Laulala, I Dineen, R O’Mahony; I Keatley (JJ Hanrahan, 63), D Williams (C Sheridan, 56); D Kilcoyne (J Cronin, 71), D Varley — capt, BJ Botha (J Ryan, 41); Donncha O’Callaghan, D Foley; Dave O’Callaghan (B Holland, 71), S Dougall (J Coughlan, 60), CJ Stander.
OSPREYS: R Fussell (S Davies, 63); B John, J Spratt – capt, A Bishop, A Natoga (H Dirksen, 49); M Morgan, T Tebaldi (T Habberfield, 71); M Thomas (N Smith, 68), S Baldwin, J Rees (D Suter, 71); L Peers, J King (R Hughes, 68); J Bearman, S Lewis, M Allen.
Referee: Giuseppe Vivarini (Italy)
The key moment
The decision to rule out a try from Ospreys scrum-half Tito Tebaldi in the 49th minute for a double movement proved telling, snuffing out a chance for the visitors to take the lead when trailing 6-3. Boosted by that let-off Munster outscored the Welsh region 2-1 on penalties over the final half hour.
The new scrum laws were supposed to reduce the number of resets and make the game more palatable for the paying public and TV viewer. Alas, no-one told this match referee and, as a result, the crowd already suffering in the cold and rain, were subjected to a tedious stop-start affair.
Munster lost tighthead prop BJ Botha to a shoulder stinger at half-time, but the problem was not deemed serious by head coach Rob Penney in the immediate post-match interview. Felix Jones returned from an ankle injury and played the full 80 minutes but James Downey missed out due to a back spasm.
The main man
Damien Varley turned 30 last week and on Saturday proved you can keep getting better with age. Turning over ball at key moments, leading by example as captain and accurate with his lineout throwing, he deserved the man of the match award.
The man in black
Once again, the man in charge disrupted rather than facilitated a game. Giuseppe Vivarini appeared clueless at the scrum and, like many referees, was over-reliant on the TMO to make decisions for him, the ref upstairs disallowing a try apiece that the Italian had full sight of the contentious moments at first hand. Frustrating.
With no game until November 23, the Munster players have a week off before preparing for two tough trips to south Wales, first to play Cardiff Blues and then to face the Dragons in Newport.
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