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Tuesday 18 June 2019

Munster 'colossus' Paul O'Connell sets sights on trophy

Munster 21 Ospreys 18

Paul O’Connell salutes the Munster supporters at Thomond Park
Paul O’Connell salutes the Munster supporters at Thomond Park
Munster's Conor Murray is attended to by medical staff after suffering a suspected medial collateral knee ligament injury during the first half
Munster's Denis Hurley scores his side's second try of the game despite the tackle of Ospreys Dan Evans
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

So it was goodbye after all, but there's one last lap for Paul O'Connell as a Munster player as he looks to cap off a glittering provincial career with another medal in Belfast on Saturday.

The Ireland captain has demurred on his future to this point, but there was no hiding from the truth when he embarked on a circuit of thanks away from his team-mates after Nigel Owens had sounded his final whistle, soaking up the acclaim for one last time.

It was a nice moment, but there is still business to conclude and all at Munster will be working overtime to ensure that they are ready to face Glasgow Warriors at Kingspan Stadium.


In particular, the physios are in for a long week. Indeed, they will already have gotten to work on the injured bodies, with Conor Murray looking highly unlikely to make it after suffering a suspected medial collateral knee ligament injury. The relief is that the scrum-half was positive that it was on the lower end of the scale and that the World Cup should not be affected.

Peter O'Mahony's hip flexor problems continued, while Simon Zebo will undergo the concussion protocols.

The importance of those three internationals was underlined to Anthony Foley as Munster did everything they could to squander a dominant position against the Ospreys and needed a late intervention from Nigel Owens to save their skin when Josh Matavesi thought he'd won a remarkable game.

Funny, though, how the story moves on and the sight of the big Ireland captain wistfully saying goodbye soon captured the agenda. Whether he continues beyond the World Cup in France remains to be seen, but the player himself admitted it was "probably" his final outing and his coach confirmed that likelihood.

"He's been a colossus. Any team he was involved with, you know, it's just the manner in which he goes about it, the standards he sets... He's the most challenging person that you'll come across in your whole life," Foley said.

"He's been a massive influence on everyone who has played with him, his coaches - he's been brilliant for us.

"Everything's got to come to an end some time, but we'll know more when Paul lets us all know more."

Rounding that stellar career off with a trophy will need a big week's work.

"I do understand that sport has no conscience, it doesn't care who or what..." Foley continued. "It's about what we put into the game, it's how we prepare this week and we have to leave the emotion out of it and make sure we're technically and tactically right and try and get in a performance that can upset Glasgow."

There was a lot to admire about Munster on Saturday as they built up a 16-3 lead through the boot of Ian Keatley and tries from Simon Zebo and Denis Hurley either side of half-time.

Those came directly from poor Ospreys kicks as the hosts ruthlessly punished their opponents' errors and looked to all the world as if they were on their way to the Guinness Pro12 final.


But a combination of bad options and woeful kicking let Ospreys into the game, with Keatley enduring a nightmare afternoon off the tee.

A crazy back-of-the-scrum move allowed Rhys Webb pick off the otherwise brilliant CJ Stander's pass to score and, while Paddy Butler responded with an unconverted try after another loose Ospreys kick, a poor Zebo chip allowed Canadian wing Jeff Hassler scorch through the rearguard to score.

Dan Biggar narrowed the gap to six points and suddenly the game was very much alive.

It might not have been had Keatley brought his kicking boots, but the fly-half missed 12 points from the tee and, after Biggar had reduced the gap to three, JJ Hanrahan continued the trend and sent a late kickable effort wide.

Still, Munster looked to have done enough until the final play when loosehead prop Marc Thomas cut them open and was stopped by Felix Jones on the line, before Matavesi went over.

The Fijian thought he'd won the game, but Owens had suspicions about an earlier knock-on. Back he went to the big screen and his instincts were confirmed. Rhys Webb had fumbled at the base of a ruck.

Relief was followed with thanks as O'Connell began to wave goodbye. Improvement is needed if a grand finale is to follow.

"We just need to make sure we learn from that and move on and don't divvy up cheap points like that," Foley concluded.

"Everybody has bad days and it's what you do next. Keats understands the game and it's how he prepares for next week, he's a good lad and a good player - a guy that can lead us around the pitch and hopefully next week we don't see those misses."

Munster - F Jones; K Earls, A Smith, D Hurley, S Zebo (R O'Mahony 67); I Keatley (JJ Hanrahan 74), C Murray (D Williams 17); D Kilcoyne (J Ryan 72), E Guinazu (D Casey 72), S Archer (BJ Botha 51); Donnacha Ryan, P O'Connell; P O'Mahony (capt) (B Holland 42), P Butler, CJ Stander.

Ospreys - D Evans (S Davies 68); J Hassler, B John, J Matavesi, E Walker; D Biggar (T Habberfield 76), R Webb; N Smith (M Thomas 73), S Baldwin (S Parry 55), D Arhip (A Jarvis 57); T Ardron (R Thornton 66), AW Jones (capt); D Lydiate (K King h-t), J Tipuric, D Baker.

Ref - N Owens (Wales)

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