By Cian Fahey
Munster traveled to Wales this week in the Heineken Cup for a top of the table clash with the Ospreys in Swansea.
Munster had beaten the Ospreys by 22-6 in Thomond Park last week to put them top of Group C with 10 points from three games. Coming into the game the Ospreys were 2nd in the group with 8 points, 2 behind Munster.
Munster made no changes to last week's starting fifteen but made one enforced change on the bench bringing in Donnacha Ryan for the suspended Paul O'Connell. O'Connell's suspension, coupled with the increased speculation that Paul Warwick is to leave the club, this week surrounded the Munster camp this week as they prepared for this game.
The Ospreys made one change looking to play a more expansive game by moving Tommy Bowe into the center to partner James Hook. Key injuries to Lee Bryne and Shane Williams forced Ospreys Director of Coaching, Scott Johnson, and Head Coach, Sean Holley, to match the creativity of Hook with the line breaking and scoring potential of Bowe. It was a positive move from a team that was desperately in need of a victory coming into the game.
The game plan for Munster was obvious from the outset. It was a typical Munster performance as they frustrated the Ospreys with the boot of O'Gara to play territorial rugby. O'Gara kicked well from hand early on with immaculately placed Garryowens and perfectly struck kicks to touch.
Rewards came early as O'Gara kicked a penalty to give Munster a 3-0 lead after an offside penalty came against the Ospreys. A series of errors led to the opening score after an errant kick from James Hook under severe pressure from Keith Earls led to a quickly taken free kick forcing the Ospreys to give away the penalty.
Within minutes of the restart O'Gara had sent another Garryowen towards Ospreys fullback Barry Davies. Davies was immediately put under pressure by Keither Earls who started the game with great intensity. Earls pressure led to a 5 meter scrum for Munster after Dennis Leamy blocked an attempted clearance kick.
The Ospreys played great defense close to their goal line but couldn't prevent Tony Buckley crashing over after a move from deep ten minutes later. Tuitupou made an initial line break before offloading the ball to Dennis Leamy. The offload was poor but leamy made a stunning pickup to keep the move going before Tony Buckley powered over the line to touchdown under the posts.
Munster's concentration was not good enough after their try as they allowed the Osprey's to claim the restart and lay siege to the Munster goal line that led to Mike Phillips burrowing under the Munster defense to score the try.
The Ospreys had stayed in the game mostly because of their dominance in the scrum. It was this dominance that allowed the Ospreys to take a 3 point lead into the half. The Ospreys took control of the game before halftime and eventually won a penalty from a scrum that led to a 13-10 finish at the half.
The second half continued in the scrappy vane that the first had as penalties were called against both sides. Munster eventually got a handle on the game as they pressured the Osprey's goal line. The Ospreys showed their brilliant defense on the goal line as they had in the first half when Dan Biggar made a crucial play on a loose ball under his posts. Biggar's clearance was erratic but Munster couldn't take advantage as Paul Warwick missed his attempted drop goal.
The pressure was relieved for the Ospreys but Munster would get their second try within ten minutes. Once again the team struck from deep but this time it was a combination from the backline that started in their own half. Peter Stringer set the move in motion, after coming off the bench for Tomas O'Leary, before Keith Earls linked up with Doug Howlett for the try. Earls took advantage of a gaping hole left open by Tommy Bowe in the center by breaking from into the Osprey's half. Earls passed the ball to Doug Howlett and Howlett chipped the ball over the top of the Osprey's defense. The ball bounced favorably for Earls who finished down the sideline. Munster had taken the lead 15-13 but the Ospreys were about to kick into life.
James Hook had been the spark of the Osprey's attack in the first half but it was Dan Biggar who dragged his team back into the game in the second half. Biggar played right on the line of the defense and kicked two penalties that made the score 19-15 in favor of the Ospreys heading into the final ten minutes.
The Ospreys domination in the scrum continued throughout the game. They won numerous penalties in the front row that frustrated Munster when they attacked and hurt them on the scoreboard when they defended.
Munster remained resolute in defense to keep themselves in the game and give themselves hope of more than just a bonus point going into the final minutes of the game. Leifemi Mafi's introduction in the final ten minutes gave Munster a legitimate threat as a ball carrier but the rest of the team looked out on their feet after 75 minutes of such a brutal contest.
Munster's last opportunity to claim victory in Swansea came with a scrum inside their own 22. Instead of a heroic comeback, the Ospreys did what they had done all throughout the game and won the ball against the head giving the Ospreys the chance to move Munster out of a bonus point.
The Ospreys kicked the ball into the corner before winning the ball at the lineout and working their way across the field. Munster's desperation to defend their line resulted in a rash tackle from sub Mafi that meant Munster had to finish the game with 14 men. The final play of the game was huge as Mick O'Driscoll, as well as two other Munster defenders, forced Alun Wyn Jones from their goalline as he tried to score the try that would have cost Munter a bonus point.
Munster may have lost the game and lost their grip atop of Group C but they will be happy with a bonus point from what was probably their most difficult game in the group. Munster will be happy with their bonus point but the Ospreys were the victors on the day by 19-15.