Munster make smooth start to Van Graan era with Ospreys scalp
Munster 36 Ospreys 10
At this time of year a perfectly dry, calm night is more than a bonus. Combine that with an immaculate surface - well, it did churn up a bit - and you have the ideal stage. Providing both teams want to play then you're in business.
Ospreys seemed to like the idea of doing just that whereas Munster were altogether more serious about it. Having a new coach on the premises is like a showing players a clean slate and telling them they have to decorate it with attractive shapes and clean lines. And off they go.
Munster went at a fair clip, leaving Johann van Graan with lots to be pleased about. His new team stay in second place in Conference A of the Guinness PRO14, but it was not without a cost. With Tigers in Limerick at the weekend and James Cronin already out of the picture, his replacement, Liam O'Connor, was stretchered off with a knee injury that the coach said was "long term".
Simon Zebo too left early - half-time in his case - with a bang on the ribs, and James O'Donoghue suffered some shoulder damage, though the coach reckons neither is serious.
So loosehead Brian Scott is in line for a spot on the bench behind Dave Kilcoyne against the Tigers on Saturday. He will be part of a pack hitting really good form. The highlights were the performances of man-of-the-match Rhys Marshall, and flanker Chris Cloete who showed enormous energy.
It was all too much for the visitors. To be 24-5 down at half-time is a tricky position for any away side, and Ospreys had been on the wrong end of most of the decisions. Their loss to the bin of flanker Will Jones was critical. He dangerously tackle Cloete and was then at the heart of the skirmish that followed. That was on 17 minutes. Between the 18th and 29th minutes Munster ran up 24 points.
It started with Sam Arnold - always looking to have a go - who took a good line off Keatley after Olly Cracknell had lost control of an Ospreys lineout, close to their line, that had seemed sorted. Six minutes later Darren Sweetnam got over after his outhalf reacted quickly when the back-field was closed off and he ran the ball blind. He found Cloete - not too hard for a man who was everywhere - and the flanker's overhead pass was picked up nicely by Sweetnam to score.
Ospreys seemed unhappy with the trajectory of the pass but referee Ben Whitehouse wasn't listening. Then, on 29 minutes, Cloete was rewarded for quick thinking when he had been buried in a tackle five metres from the Ospreys line; with no poach coming he got back to his feet, picked up the ball, and scored in the corner. That virtually killed the contest. But Munster had the bonus point in their sights. They had that sorted within three minutes of the new half when Rory Scannell worked a perfect one-two with wing Alex Wootton for the centre to score, Keatley's conversion making it 31-5.
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The only black spots for Munster were the injuries to Zebo, who went off at half-time, and then O'Connor, but they were so much better than the Ospreys it didn't cost them much ground.
They did concede a bit though: Sweetnam won't have been too happy with his incomplete tackle on Kieron Fonotia, which led to a try for Jeff Hassler just before the break. But by the time Ospreys got another one Jack O'Donoghue had scored Munster's fifth. The same player was carded late on for a professional foul but by then the business of the evening had been long sorted.
Scorers - Munster: Arnold, Sweetnam, Cloete, R Scannell, O'Donoghue try each; Keatley pen, 4 cons. Ospreys: Hassler, Jones try each.
Munster: S Zebo (JJ Hanrahan ht); D Sweetnam, S Arnold, R Scannell, A Wootton; I Keatley (C Nash 57), J Hart (D Williams 51); L O'Connor (B Scott 48), R Marshall, J Ryan (S Archer 74), J Kleyn (D O'Shea 51), B Holland (capt), J O'Donoghue (yc 68-78), R Copeland (S O'Connor 77), C Cloete.
Ospreys: D Evans; H Dirksen, K Fonotia, J Hook, J Hassler (J Thomas 73); S Davies (L Price 76), T Habberfield; G Thomas (R Jenkins 42), S Parry (S Baldwin HIA 26-32; 36), D Arhip, L Ashley (R McCusker HIA 54-62), B Davies (capt), O Cracknell (J McCusker 74) King, W Jones (yc 17-27).
Referee: B Whitehouse (Wales).
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