Sunday 23 October 2016

Anthony Foley braced for stiff Ospreys challenge

Munster 50-27 Dragons

Published 18/05/2015 | 02:30

Paul O'Connell gets over to score Munster's sixth try
Paul O'Connell gets over to score Munster's sixth try
Conor Murray is congratulated by team-mate Keith Earls after scoring his third try at Irish Independent Park

Any more of this and perhaps rugby should consider getting rid of the coaches altogether and just let the players at it.

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In what was for all the world like a mini-replica of the surreal 'Super Saturday' climax to the Six Nations, the final-day shoot-out of the newly meritocratic Guinness Pro12 delivered shed-loads of excitement.

A bit like the sponsors' product, one waited with bated breath for the cream to rise to the top; in Irish Independent Park, the sparkling rugby - more than a point for every minute the ball was in play - was amply sufficient to intoxicate the senses.

Before the game, Anthony Foley had doled out the proverbial Munster Senior Cup gospel that he and his family have owed fidelity to for decades; take your points, 3-6-9, build the score.

Instead, his side seemed to utterly demolish his argument and instead resorted to demolishing the scoreboard, spurning the first three kickable penalties of the game to, instead, maul over three times to earn the bonus point by the 23rd minute.

That Dragons got almost half that total themselves by that stage, and ended up with a try-scoring bonus point, told you everything about the gloriously sun-splashed day.

It was a reminder of those last days in school before the summer holidays when you were allowed to bring in your toys.

Amidst all the frolics, however, Munster attended to their routine business in a briskly efficient manner, deploying their most fearsome weapon - the thunderously systematic maul - to subdue their lively visitors.

Have no fear, next week will be a return to traditional cup values, as Dragons coach Lyn Jones, whose players also fearlessly swung from the hip, averred.

But Foley's men knew their only chance of getting there was by temporarily setting aside some tradition here; and, as Ulster wilted, a helping hand from their western cousins also helped, too.

"It was difficult enough watching it," said Foley, who declined to listen to the late breathless radio reports from elsewhere on this dramatic finale, instead linking arms with his team on the pitch as they bade farewell to Cork for the season.

"Ospreys had three tries by half-time, Ulster were doing a good job in Scotstoun and they were up at half-time, 10-6 and I didn't think the results were going to flip like that for the second half.

"There were probably some elements of the game in Galway that there normally are with the breeze but I think maybe Connacht got news as well that the Scarlets were down in Treviso and they had a chance.

Things change and the last 40 minutes were turned on their heads from the first 40."

Munster could only focus on their end of the business.

"The bottom line was that it wasn't in our hands unfortunately because of last week. We're there now and while we're at it we might as well take advantage of it.

"It's not the end all and be all, some team is going to lose a home semi, so it's importance to us that a team that has beaten us twice this year don't make it three."

That team - Ospreys - have claimed Pro12 title success on Irish soil before and will have no fears coming to Limerick as Munster officials scramble desperately to force a hasty stadium sell-out which, with all the bells and whistles, could be worth €500,000 to the province.

"Yeah, we've come across them in the past," Foley smiles; the pair have had a contentious rivalry since the Swansea region's formation. "They're a proud team and a proud region.

"We're hoping the people of Limerick and the north Munster region will come out and support us. Since we've been knocked out of Europe, we've gone about our job to try and make sure we've something to celebrate at the end of the year and hopefully we can get something. But it's going to take a lot of hard work."

It will help if inspirational captain Peter O'Mahony can return; he damaged his hip during Tuesday's lineout session; Munster are still not sure whether he can train this morning.

Simon Zebo suffered back spasms after being withdrawn early in Munster's two previous Pro 12 clashes and Foley says he is "hoping for the best" given that the in-form winger will have had a fortnight's preparation for next Saturday afternoon's tie.

For his part, Dragons coach Jones, his view admittedly coloured by having seen his men receive a shellacking, sides with the satchel-bearers in casting Munster as strong favourites to lift their first trophy since 2011, when they also met Ospreys in a Limerick semi-final.

"Munster are the best team I've seen in the competition," he said. "If I did have a fiver to bet, which is probably the price of a coffee in Ireland, I'd probably have it on Munster.

"Their error count is low, their set-piece is very clean and home advantage will be too much for the Ospreys. It's a shame they're not in the final.

"Ospreys played good rugby in the first half of the season. No different to other teams, they have missed their internationals because Alun-Wyn Jones and their half-backs are a massive influence.

"Home advantage is very important in big games, whatever the competition it has a huge influence."

Munster will seek to press that advantage home, so to speak.

"We've got to put a bit of pressure on them as well to make sure that we don't fall into the trap of sitting back and giving it all to them," agreed Foley. "We've got to go out and impose ourselves whenever possible."

MUNSTER - F Jones; K Earls (A Conway 66), A Smith, D Hurley (capt), R O'Mahony; I Keatley (JJ Hanrahan 55), C Murray (D Williams 67); J Ryan (D Kilcoyne 51), E Guinazu (N Scannell 51), BJ Botha (S Archer 66); B Holland, P O'Connell (J O'Donoghue 70); D Ryan, P Butler, CJ Stander (S Dougall 70).

DRAGONS - J Tovey (G Rhys Jones 71); T Prydie, T Morgan (B Nightingale 63), J Dixon, A Hewitt; D Jones, J Evans (R Rees 51); B Stankovich (P Price 66), H Gustafson (R Bukley 63), B Harris (L Fairbrother 66); C Hill (M Screech 58), R Landman (capt); N Crosswell (R Buckley 22-32) (J Benjamin 66), N Cudd, T Faletau.

REF - B Whitehouse (Wales).

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