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Murray takes final chance as Munster bow out

Champions Cup, Pool 4: Munster 33 Ospreys 6

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Two-halves: Munster’s Conor Murray and Craig Casey embrace after the game at Thomond Park. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Two-halves: Munster’s Conor Murray and Craig Casey embrace after the game at Thomond Park. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Two-halves: Munster’s Conor Murray and Craig Casey embrace after the game at Thomond Park. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

After Glasgow's win on Saturday night confirmed their fate, Munster had plenty of time to consider their European exit before they took to the Thomond Park pitch and it was no wonder they made a slow start.

Still, as Peter O'Mahony was quick to point out in the aftermath, they attracted the biggest crowd of the final round of Heineken Champions Cup matches to Limerick despite their predicament and they rewarded the faithful who braved the cold to make the lunchtime kick-off.

They bow out of the tournament, but their season is still alive and the presence of Craig Casey in particular gave the departing fans cause for optimism after the young scrum-half came off the bench and scored a fine solo try.

Before then, the man he replaced made a case for his own defence.

Conor Murray has kept his counsel as the John Cooney hype train raged, quietly building himself into form.

Improving

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Rory Scannell gets to grips with Ospreys’ George North. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Rory Scannell gets to grips with Ospreys’ George North. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Rory Scannell gets to grips with Ospreys’ George North. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

He hasn't been as prolific as the Ulster starter, but he has been steadily improving and after impressing against Racing 92 last week he won the man of the match award here.

How much stock Andy Farrell puts into a win over this dreadful Ospreys team remains to be seen, but he'll be happy with his options at scrum-half going into the Six Nations.

Murray's performance encapsulated Munster's day.

At one stage he grew so frustrated by what was going on around him that he called for referee Mathieu Raynal to award his side a scrum rather than carry on with a pass.

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JJ Hanrahan of Munster kicks a conversion. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

JJ Hanrahan of Munster kicks a conversion. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

JJ Hanrahan of Munster kicks a conversion. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

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That came after he had remonstrated with JJ Hanrahan as the ball sat there waiting to be passed. The score was 6-0 to the visitors and Munster appeared to be struggling.

Instead of wallowing, they got themselves going and tries from CJ Stander and Stephen Archer gave them a 14-6 lead. By the time Murray crossed for their third try, any sense of danger was gone.

Then, he was replaced for a head injury assessment and Casey came on. With his first touch, he fed a scrum and with his second he picked the ball up at the base, dummied past Dan Lydiate and scored.

Stander added a fifth try and Munster headed off for a four-week break at the end of a difficult period on a relative high.

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Munster head coach Johann van Graan. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Munster head coach Johann van Graan. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Munster head coach Johann van Graan. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

The non-Ireland squad members will head for a rest, those included in Andy Farrell's 35-man panel will reconvene in Portugal and despite their European exit Murray believes his province are in a good place as he prepares to take on Cooney for the Ireland No 9 shirt.

"You are aware of it," he said of the international competition.

"Within Munster we have a really good thing going at the moment. With our new attack coach, Stephen Larkham, we are just really enjoying getting together on a Monday and trying to get better and improve as the weeks go on.

"That was a chance today again with lovely conditions to try and go out and play. Whatever happens outside of that competition-wise, you try not to pay much attention. You just try and be the best you can be.

"We had a few tight games in this pool and it could have gone either way. We are not losing faith, and we will focus on the PRO14 now after we come back from international duty and drive it on and try and get better."

While he and the other seven Ireland squad members are away, Johann van Graan has four league games to manage.

And he was heartened by the performance of Casey, Jack O'Sullivan and Ben Healy, who came off the bench, while Fineen Wycherley and Calvin Nash started.

It wasn't perfect and Wycherley in particular won't be happy with some of his breakdown work, but with Sammy Arnold producing his best display in some time after stepping in for the injured Chris Farrell, there is reason to be confident that the Reds can come out of this with a host of promising players in good form and able to push the returning internationals.

"I'm very confident about the young lads in the squad and a lot of disappointed guys not to be selected this week because everybody wants to have a go," Van Graan said.

"It's been such a long block, we've got a two-week break now and then we'll reconvene for two weeks of training and then we've got the Kings at home, Zebre away and Scarlets at home and then a three-week break until we play Benetton at home and the national guys will come back.

"There's still five months left in the season and still such a long way to go.

"The previous two years we had the European quarter-final to look forward to and obviously that's not there this year so our sole focus will be on the PRO14.

"You've got three extra weeks to prepare without a quarter-final, semi-final and final week so we'll have to use that to our advantage.

"We learned the previous two years, if you don't get a home semi-final you've got to go to Dublin and play Leinster in a semi-final so our first goal will be to qualify for Europe and try to get a home semi-final but we've got a lot of work to do before then."

MUNSTER - M Haley (B Healy 69); A Conway (D Goggin 12), S Arnold, R Scannell, C Nash; JJ Hanrahan, C Murray (C Casey 58-64) (B Healy 64-67) (C Casey 74); D Kilcoyne (J Loughman 67), N Scannell (K O'Byrne 68), S Archer (J Ryan 54); F Wycherley, B Holland (A Botha 68); P O'Mahony (capt) (J O'Sullivan 60), J O'Donoghue, CJ Stander.

OSPREYS - C Evans; H Dirksen (L Klim 79), G North, D Evans (S Cross 55), L Morgan; L Price, S Venter (R Morgan-Williams 65); N Smith (D Marfo 67), S Otten (S Parry 68), M Fia (G Gajion 56); B Davies, AW Jones (L Ashley 79); D Lydiate, J Tipuric (capt) (O Cracknell h-t-44), D Baker (O Cracknell 54).

Ref - M Raynal (France)

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