Barnes double sees edgy Munster home
Munster 18 Ospreys 11
For a horrible couple of minutes at Thomond Park last night you could see all Munster's work in this Magners League go down the pan.
With the Ospreys, who had woken up only for the endgame, trying to close a seven-point deficit, Munster came to their rescue. Incredibly, with the chance to put the ball out of play and secure their spot in the final against Leinster in a fortnight, Ronan O'Gara punted for the corner -- it came up short and off went the Ospreys again.
On the blindside of referee Nigel Owens, Tommy Bowe had sprinted up to cut off O'Gara's first option, but surely he could have changed to the other side and got the ball off the park? Whatever, it was a very stressful finish to a game Munster should have won by a street.
At times the Ospreys had been there in body only. At one stage in the second half they took an age to break from their huddle and come up to a lineout, and you wondered were they playing a game of spoof to see who would throw it in. It wasn't so much that their lineout was poor -- as it happened it was -- but they brought no appetite on a night when the atmosphere pre-game, in front of a half-closed Thomond Park and a crowd of maybe 10,000, made it hard going all round.
And still the Welsh side had a chance to level it at the death, having got what looked like no more than a consolation try with only a minute of normal time remaining.
Munster had laboured into their 18-6 lead, before Richard Fussell got that late score to set up the injury-time charge. Blessed with loads of ball, despite a line-out that sometimes saw ball sail over the top, Munster had the favour of referee Owens at the scrum where the Ospreys had expected to be comfortable.
In fairness to tight-head Adam Jones, his wife had given birth only yesterday morning and he flew in late, by private jet, to join the squad. As for the rest of them, where were they until stoppage-time? Jerry Collins, playing his last game for the region-- one of four key players on their way out -- looked like he was having a runaround.
You couldn't fault Munster's effort, but again they struggled to use all the ball they had. David Wallace and Donnacha Ryan carried well, and man of the match Paul O'Connell worked hard, while young Danny Barnes showed for work all through the game and two tries was a terrific return for him.
When he got the second, on 56 minutes to put his team 18-6 clear, after he had charged down Fussell, you expected the score to get out to maybe 25 before the Reds were done.
Then they got loose, throwing 50 per cent passes, and a Welsh team who looked like they couldn't create anything in their dreams, got back into the game. They had just lost replacement Richard Hibbard to the bin on a crazy offside entry, having been on the field about a minute. Still, Munster didn't put them away.
The lead at half-time was 8-3, and it would have been more had Wallace managed to ground the ball -- held up by good Ospreys defence -- in the last play of the half. Mind you, the same player had butchered a try eight minutes earlier when he took on three defenders with the energetic Keith Earls unmarked outside him. As it happened, they scored with Barnes's first effort on the other side a minute later. It mattered in so far as Munster are desperately trying to play more clinical rugby, and their failure to do so kept the Ospreys in the game.
It's not as if Leinster will have been watching too closely, for they have other fish to fry in Cardiff on Saturday, and it remains to be seen what mental and physical condition Joe Schmidt's side will be in when they come back here for the Magners final in two weeks.
We await too the make-up of the Munster team for that one. The absence of Tomas O'Leary from the squad last night, given his desperate need for games, was remarkable. Makes you wonder if Declan Kidney and Tony McGahan are reading from the same book, let alone the same page. The departure of replacement Denis Leamy, a few minutes after he came on, also looked ominous, but at least they have time and space to regroup for one last charge and a win over Leinster that would put a positive spin on their season. They need it.
Scorers -- Munster: D Barnes 2 tries; R O'Gara 2 pens, con. Ospreys: R Fussell try; D Biggar 2 pens.
Munster: F Jones; D Howlett, D Barnes (S Zebo 74), L Mafi, K Earls; R O'Gara, C Murray (P Stringer 56); M Horan (W du Preez 56), D Varley (M Sherry 56), J Hayes (S Archer 62); D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell; D Ryan, J Coughlan (D Leamy 60, N Ronan 74), D Wallace.
Ospreys: R Fussell; T Bowe, A Bishop, J Hook (A Beck 38), N Walker; D Biggar, R Webb (T Isaacs 53); P James (P Bevington 60), H Bennett (R Hibbard 48; yc 49-59), A Jones; I Gough (J Collins 48), AW Jones (Capt); R Jones, J Thomas, J Tipuric.
Referee: N Owens (Wales).
Sunday Indo Sport