ULTIMATELY it was a decent night at the office; third game, third win and a place at the top of the Magners League. It’s exactly where Munster wanted to be at this delicate early stage of the season.
There might have been some gaps on the terraces – the official attendance of 16,100 fell short of aspirations, and there were some groans of frustration as a fired-up team lost scoring opportunities to put the result beyond doubt much earlier. Yet there was satisfaction at the end.
The injury toll could be more a worry than the mixed display; Denis Leamy was denied another captain’s run with a rib injury sustained in training, Ian Dowling’s night was cut short inside five minutes with a hip problem and Felix Jones twisted his knee late on while Denis Fogarty will today undergo a “medical procedure” in Dublin to repair shoulder damage that forced his exit after 32 minutes.
Munster coach Tony McGahan believes Leamy will be back to face Glasgow next week but there is concern about the others, with Dowling and Jones facing scans over the next 24 hours.
That Munster survived without them and played through the disruption following Dowling’s early injury was a tribute of sorts. Jones moved to the wing and Paul Warwick to full back to facilitate the introduction of Ronan O’Gara. Not that the international out-half was totally at ease with a mixed outing in all aspects of his play until the latter stages.
Unquestionably, however, Munster were thoroughly deserving victors and there were no complaints from the Ospreys camp, whose coach Sean Holley said: “Munster were very professional and, crucially in the tackle area very streetwise.”
The Munster pack richly deserve the plaudits that came their way for keeping Ospreys in defensive mode for much of the 80 minutes. Apart from coughing up possession at a couple of first-half lineouts, Munster will be pleased with a pack display that provided ample, if not always top quality, possession for the backs.
Handling errors didn’t help but none of that back division could be accused of lacking the will to break down a resolute defence. Man of the match and captain for the night Doug Howlett led the charge, Warwick and Jones were threatening by his side and Sam Tuitupou continues to impress with his go-forward attacking play. With quicker, slicker, possession, he might have done better against an overworked Ospreys.
It said much that players like Tommy Bowe. Andrew Bishop, Lee Byrne and Dan Biggar hardly got a look in for the visitors and that pleased McGahan, who said: “It was a always a concern against a team like the Ospreys, who can score from anywhere; when the game became a bit fractured it was going to be dangerous, so it was important for us to build a platform through discipline, defence and field position. Once we controlled those three areas we were able to keep the scoreboard moving along.”
Munster could hardly believe they led by a mere three points at the interval, having dominated territory and possession to a staggering degree. The Ospreys had to live on their nerves and survived mainly due to their dogged defence, the plethora of Munster handling errors and more than one fortunate bounce of the ball.
One fan put his finger on it when he described it as the most one-sided three-point advantage game he had ever witnessed. The Ospreys seldom got out of their half and when they did it was mainly to clear their lines after Munster either coughed up possession from attacking lineouts or were penalised for overenthusiasm on the ground.
Warwick and O’Gara (twice) scorned penalty opportunities, the ball bounced horribly for Felix Jones on two occasions when he appeared to be in the clear and Howlett was denied scoring opportunities twice through dogged defence.
The positives came through Alan Quinlan’s brilliance on the deck in his 200th appearance for Munster alongside an equally hard-working Niall Ronan, a strong scrum and, at last, a successful penalty from O’Gara in the 40th minute.
Munster grabbed the opening try from Howlett three minutes into the second half and O’Gara brilliantly converted from the right touchline. Within seconds Bowe had the visitors on the board with a brilliantly opportunistic try, before Munster’s power paid off in the form of a succession of O’Gara penalties to stretch the lead to 22-5 and reflect their dominance.
The Ospreys hit back in injury time as Munster were down to 14 men (Billy Holland binned) with Richard Fussell making the extra man count in the corner, but there was to be no way back. The concession of a second try will, however, be a warning to Munster considering their opponents had little more than 30% possession.
MUNSTER: F Jones; D Howlett (captain), J Murphy, S Tuitupou, I Dowling; P Warwick, T O’Leary; M Horan, D Fogarty, J Hayes; D O’Callaghan, D Ryan; A Quinlan, J. Coughlan, N Ronan. Replacements: R O’Gara for Dowling (3, injured), D Varley for Fogarty (32, inj), T. Buckley for Hayes (ht), W du Preez for Horan (48), P O’Mahony for Coughlan (69), B. Holland for Quinlan (71), D. Barnes for Jones (77, inj), P. Stringer for O’Leary (81).
OSPREYS: L Byrne, N Walker, T Bowe, A Bishop, S Williams, D Biggar, J Nutbrown, P James, M. Davies, C Mitchell, A W Jones (captain), I Evans, J Collins, J Thomas, M Holah. Replacements: I Gough for Evans (35, inj), R Hibbard for Davies (ht), A Jones for Mitchell (46), R Webb for Nutbrown (57), D Jones for James (61), B Lewis for Holah (68), G Owens for Walker, R Fussell for Byrne (both 69).
Referee. N Paterson (SRU).
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