Munster forced to grind way back to top
Munster gained revenge for their double defeat last season and gained an early psychological advantage ahead of their upcoming Heineken Cup meetings with the Ospreys this season at Thomond Park last night. It was far from convincing stuff but yet Munster did enough to carve out their third win of the Magners League and climb back on top of the table.
Munster led 3-0 at the interval at the end of a dour opening half where the efforts of both sides were undermined by a series of unforced errors. Munster were in trouble in the line-out, losing two of their first three, and drafted replacement hooker Damian Varley into the fray on the half hour, their second change of the night with Ian Dowling limping off with a hip injury after just three minutes.
That prompted Tony McGahan to draft Ronan O'Gara into action, with Paul Warwick moving to full-back. Warwick missed his opening kick from the right after three minutes but while O'Gara took over the kicking duties, he didn't enjoy much success either and missed two.
The deadlock was finally broken four minutes from the break when Ospreys were penalised for not binding in a scrum and O'Gara slotted the effort from 25 metres in front of the posts.
Alan Quinlan's 200th appearance for Munster deserved a better opening but the 36-year-old was not blameless either, knocking on a chance after 34 minutes when O'Gara charged down a clearance from Dan Biggar.
But the quality of the game turned directly after the restart, as both sides came out to play rugby and it was Munster who struck first when Doug Howlett, skipper on the night, got over in the right corner after a period of sustained pressure with Warwick's double skip pass sending the former All-Black over.
But Irishman Tommy Bowe responded within three minutes for the Welsh side with a superb inside pass from Shane Williams putting him through up the middle and Bowe beat Warwick on the outside to score in the left corner.
However, that was the extent of the challenge from the Ospreys and Munster did what they do best, getting on top up front and wearing down the opposition. O'Gara tacked on two more penalties after 56 and 61 minutes to open up a 19-5 lead and though Richard Fussell got a consolation try for Ospreys, by then O'Gara had nailed his fifth penalty to seal the win.
Scorers -- Munster: O'Gara 5 pens, con; D Howlett try; Ospreys: T Bowe, R Fussell try each
Munster: F Jones (D Barnes 74); D Howlett, J Murphy, S Tuitupou, I Dowling (R O'Gara 4); P Warwick, T O'Leary (P Stringer 79); M Horan (W du Preez 50), D Fogarty (D Varley 29), J Hayes; D O'Callaghan, D Ryan; A Quinlan (B Holland 69), N Ronan, J Coughlan (P O'Mahony 67)
Ospreys: L Byrne (G Owen 67); N Walker (R Fussell 67), T Bowe, A Bishop, S Williams; D Biggar, J Nutbrown (R Webb 58); P James (D Jones 60), M Davies (R Hibbard 48), C Mitchell (A Jones 48); AW Jones, I Evans (I Gough 33); J Collins, M Holah (B Lewis 67), J Thomas
Referee: N Paterson (Scotland)