Munster dig deep to hold off Ospreys
December 12, 2010
Munster winger Doug Howlett grabbed his side's first try at Thomond Park
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Munster produced a battling display to notch a 22-16 victory over Ospreys in a heated Heineken Cup Pool 3 clash at Thomond Park.
Tries from Doug Howlett, David Wallace and Johne Murphy ensured the two-time winners kept their quarter-final hopes alive but they had to fight for the win following a second half red card for lock Paul O'Connell. The Ospreys had threatened an upset with a try from Tommy Bowe and 11 points from the boot of fly-half Dan Biggar due reward for a physical yet creatively limited showing and in the end they will gladly accept the losing bonus point they were left with at the end of an enthralling contest.
An early scrum penalty went the way of the Ospreys and sparked the first confrontation between the two packs and when the dust settled Biggar stepped up to land an excellent kick to open the scores.
The match continued to simmer with some bruising exchanges and it was the visitors who enjoyed the greater possession whilst dominating the territorial battle. But having failed to capitalise they were hit by a classic Munster counter punch. Prop Tony Buckley earned some hard yards on the Ospreys' before a chip over the top from scrum-half Tomas O'Leary exploited a defensive lapse by winger Richard Fussell and allowed Howlett to race onto the ball and claim the opening try of the game. Ronan O'Gara missed the conversion from out wide and the Ospreys struck back immediately with Biggar's second penalty after Munster hooker Damien Varley was penalised at the breakdown.
The tit-for-tat penalty exchange continued following the re-start with Ospreys hooker Richard Hibbard guilty of not releasing Munster's David Wallace after the tackle but O'Gara could not hit the target.
The Ospreys' impressive physicality brought them significant rewards at the set piece and in the loose with Munster forced to scramble the ball away on more than one occasion but the hosts would not buckle and threatened with ball in hand - most notably when a strong run from fullback Paul Warwick cut the Ospreys' defence open. The visitors repelled that particular attack and fortune was on their side again moments later when O'Gara pushed his next penalty attempt wide of the posts after Ospreys flanker Marty Holah went off his feet at the breakdown. Biggar also failed with his next attempt after a strong run from blindside Jerry Collins had forced Munster onto the back foot.
A desperate claim from flanker James Coughlan inside his own 22 then denied Ospreys winger Bowe after yet another hard-won turnover had allowed Biggar to heap pressure on the hosts with a clever kick ahead. Back came Munster with centre Sam Tuitupou and Warwick combining well to drive deep into the Ospreys' half. And when Ospreys lock Alun-Wyn Jones was penalised for taking the man out in the air, O'Gara stepped up to notch his first penalty that gave his side a narrow two-point lead at the break.
Munster began the second half brightly with Howlett making big gains up the middle but in their eagerness to take a stranglehold on the game Tuitupou offered up a loose pass that Bowe pounced upon before racing the length of the field to score under the posts.
Biggar added the extras to cement his side's lead and they hammered home their advantage at scrum time before peppering the Munster defensive line. But the home side stood firm before stringing together an impressive series of phases themselves that saw Coughlan and then O'Gara take the game into the Ospreys' 22 where they chose to kick a penalty into the corner.
O'Callaghan claimed the subsequent lineout before No.8 Denis Leamy and then Buckley powered towards the line before the whistle penalised the Ospreys' Ryan Jones for taking a player out at the lineout. This time they opted for the scrum that resulted in another penalty and a yellow card for loose-head Paul James.
Replacement Duncan Jones then joined the front row fray for the next scrum with Collins making way. Successive scrums then had to be re-set before Coughlan and Varley attempted to force their way over and eventually Wallace got over the line with a little help from his friends. Lock Paul O'Connell then entered the contest as a replacement for Mick O'Driscoll as O'Gara gave his side the lead once more with the conversion.
And they took a firm grip on the game just two minutes later when a high kick from Biggar fell kindly for O'Leary on half way and he injected some pace before finding Murphy on his outside who coasted in for his side's second third try. O'Gara's conversion extended Munster' lead to nine points as James returned to the game.
The Ospreys hauled themselves back into bonus point range thanks to Biggar's fourth penalty following another success at scrum time and there was a sensational twist to the game a minute later when O'Connell was sent off for a swinging arm into the face of Ospreys No.8 Jonathan Thomas.
Ospreys fullback Barry Davies failed to land the subsequent long range penalty but a penalty against Munster lock Donncha O'Callghan for a tackle off the ball allowed the visitors to kick to the corner in the last minute of the game. With the bonus point in the bag they went for the win but Munster claimed a valuable turnover to ensure they held on for a hard-fought victory.
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