The normally unflappable Nigel Owens looked confused, asking his assistants for input as he allowed play continue. The crowd bayed for a knock-on and a chance for Munster to clear their lines. Instead it was the Ospreys replacement prop who burst through and suddenly it looked like they would become the first away team to win a Pro12 semi-final. Hearts in our months we watched anxiously and were relieved to see him refer their try to the TMO. Yes!! There’s the knock-on! And there’s the full-time whistle! Munster were into their first final since 2011 and you could see how much it meant to the players and supporters alike. Despite being comfortably in control early in the second half a few mistakes had let Ospreys back into the game and led to such a nail-biting finish but it’s great to be into the final so now the scramble is on to source tickets and get behind the team next week when they travel to Belfast to play Glasgow.
There was an air of revolution on the terrace – when the semi-final tickets went on sale last Saturday you could not specify north or south ends and it was defaulting to tickets for the North end of the West terrace. A number of the south end regulars were not happy to be out of position. Pascal was telling me that he had tried to change his tickets when he arrived at the ticket office but they would not allow it so he was planning his retribution should Munster lose which would of course be down to him not being in his usual place! However he and his friend John and a large Waterford contingent had arrived early and moved down to the south end once inside the grounds. In fairness to the MRSC I was impressed to get a response to my email querying the issue last Sunday. Ticketmaster rectified the issue on Sunday and I had bought my ticket then.
While there was not quite 17,000 at the game those who came were in good voice and created a great atmosphere. There was a stirring rendition of “Stand Up and Fight” led by Jean Wallace and the choir. There was not much evidence of Osprey supporters, but the Red Army cheered every tackle, turnover and maul, tried to drown out the Ospreys lineout calls and encourage them to knock on any garryowens they were gathering and generally provided helpful advice to the match officials.
Ospreys started well and had most of the possession for the opening minutes. We were happy to see an early drop goal attempt go wide. Another threatening move ended when the ball drifted aimlessly into touch. Shortly afterwards they were threatening down that wing again but Walker was hauled down just short of the line by CJ Stander and Conor Murray with Paul O’Connell arriving to win a penalty (for not releasing). Another phew moment!
Keatley found an excellent touch in the Ospreys half. Finally a bit of possession and they took it on well, with strong carries from Conor Murray, Dave Kilcoyne, and others before Archer almost made it to the line only to be forced into touch. Ospreys won their lineout and when Munster were piling on the pressure Conor Murray went offside and conceded a penalty.
Back down in the Munster half Ospreys won a kickable penalty when Denis Hurley and Stephen Archer did not roll away after making another tackle. Dan Biggar made no mistake, taking the 3 points on offer to put them into the lead after 13 minutes.
Munster responded well, Paul led from the front as they held onto the ball coming in waves at the Ospreys but in the process Conor Murray was injured during a tackle and while he walked off there is concern that he has ligament damage. Duncan Williams took his place. Munster had won a penalty themselves which Ian Keatley converted to level the score.
It was almost 20 minutes before the first scrum in the game which resulted in another penalty for Munster when the Ospreys front row went down.
Keatley kicked to touch. Peter O’Mahony claimed the ball, the maul won a penalty advantage. When Munster did not convert the advantage play came back for the penalty and Keatley put it between the posts to make it 6-3 on 22 minutes.
Munster won two Ospreys lineouts in a row to keep the pressure on, pinning the Ospreys back in their half until a penalty for not rolling away let them escape.
From their lineout maul Archer was penalised for side entry (called by the Assistant Referee) to earn Ospreys another penalty just outside the 10m line which we protested so when the ball was kicked dead we were delighted and felt that justice had been served!
From the scrum to restart Munster won a penalty when tighthead Arhip went straight down but it was Keatley’s turn to fluff his kick and he did not find touch. After a spot of aerial ping pong Duncan Williams chased his own garryowen only to be impeded by his opposite number Rhys Webb who had deliberately run into his path. Unfortunately the penalty kick went astray.
As the clock ticked down the final minutes of the first half the “Fields of Athenry” broke out during an injury stoppage. Play resumed with a scrum. Stander fed Williams from the base of the scrum who passed to Keatley. He feinted to pass but broke through a gap instead and got the ball to Stander steaming through on his inside. Paddy Butler in support passed in turn to Simon Zebo who scored and celebrated his first try since becoming a father (welcome Jacob) with a “rock the baby” motion instead of his customary Z sign as chants of Ze-bo, Ze-bo rang out. The conversion was missed but the score of 11-3 has smiles on our faces for half-time.
A kick out on the full by the Ospreys provided Munster with the platform of a lineout, claimed by O’Connell from which they deployed the maul. The forwards took it on and got close to the line. A long pass by Keatley found Denis Hurley on the wing where he used his strength to get past Walker and dive in at the corner. The touchline conversion kick was unsuccessful but 16-3 looked a healthy lead although our mood was dampened by the departure of Peter O’Mahony who had looked uncomfortable at times during the game with the flare up of his hip flexor injury. Billy Holland came into the second row and Donnacha Ryan moved to the backrow.
A forward pass gave Munster another scrum. The ball popped out the same tunnel so it was reset but a communication error meant that Stander passed the ball to the near side while Williams had moved to the far side. The pass was probably meant for Zebo but it was Rhys Webb (Pro12 Players’ Player of the Season) who was there to collect it and canter in unopposed!! Dan Biggar missed the conversion.
What a costly error but the response was immediate. Wave after wave they came at the Ospreys. Dave Kilcoyne nearly got there before Paddy Butler took the pass at pace to crash over and score a try on his final appearance for Munster at Thomond Park. The conversion came off the post but 21-8 was a great scoreline.
From another scrum the ball got to Simon Zebo but his kick was blocked by an Ospreys player. Hassler was first to react, scooping up the ball to score a second try for the Ospreys, managing to stretch out and score despite the efforts of Zebo who had hauled him down just before the line. Biggar converted and the restart by Munster went out on the full to give more momentum to the Ospreys. However a good turnover by Keith Earls and CJ stander gave possession back to Munster albeit in their own half. Stander charged from the base of the scrum to put Munster on the front foot and get the crowd roaring again.
Ospreys threatened through Hassler down the west wing before spreading it to Walker on the opposite wing but as they got close to the tryline they conceded a penalty for not releasing and Munster cleared the danger for another spell.
Matavesi almost broke through next but Duncan Williams managed to get back and collected his attempted offload to avert the danger.
From a lineout there was a box kick which Zebo gathered but as he landed he seemed to be tackled by Hassler. The medic rushed to his assistance and our hearts were in our mouths as they treated him. Finally we saw him move his hand and eventually he was able to sit up. Watching the game back on TV I now know that the TMO did indeed look at the incident but we were not seeing the replays on the big screen and the chants of “TMO, TMO” gathered momentum.
Nigel Owens informed Zebo that he had been out cold and to our relief – as we burst into applause when he was able to walk off – the stretcher was dismissed. Ronan O’Mahony came on in his place. Ospreys had been awarded a penalty which Biggar converted to set up a tense final quarter-hour.
Munster retained possession and played in the Ospreys half. They even had penalty opportunities to increase the gap but first Keatley and then JJ Hanrahan – who came on in the 73rd minute – also missed when the Munster scrum (bolstered by the fresh legs of Duncan Casey and John Ryan) earned another penalty.
Still they persevered in the Ospreys half, a kick ahead by Ronan O’Mahony just went over the line. From the lineout Paul O’Connell won a penalty when the Ospreys replacement hooker did not release the ball as Munster pinned them back. We roared them on and every tackle was a cause for celebration as we anxiously watched the clock tick down.
Keatley kicked to touch. Duncan Casey had no ball to throw in so the ball boy on midfield had to provide one, a good way of winding down the clock.. However, tthere Ospreys had a final opportunity to win the game when Munster were penalised for holding on.
From that lineout on the 10m line Ospreys worked their way into the Munster half. As Webb went to clear the ball from the base of a ruck there seemed to be a knock-on by James King but play was allowed continue and as we bayed for the referee to penalise the knock-on replacement prop Aaron Jarvis burst through a gap and almost got to the line. Ospreys retained possession and moved the ball quickly to the wing where Matevasi touched down. However Nigel Owens called on the TMO and when the knock on was confirmed he blew the final whistle.
Hugs and backslaps all round but also a sense of relief. As we watched Paul O’Connell lead the team over to acknowledge the crowd we wondered if the rumours of it being his last game there for Munster were true. He had tackled and carried all day, winning turnovers and driving Munster forward. When interviewed by Sky he said it was probably his last game for Munster in Thomond. What a contribution he has made over the years! A final piece of silverware with his beloved province would be a good way to finish his Munster career before leading Ireland into the World Cup.
So both semi-finals went down to the wire and in both cases the home sides edged it. Two out of three (wins by Ospreys over Munster this season) ain’t bad but Munster won the one which matters most and hopefully will go all the way next weekend. Glasgow will take some beating. They have their own injury concerns after their semi-final so we’ll have to see who is still standing next Saturday.
Munster: Felix Jones; Keith Earls, Andrew Smith, Denis Hurley, Simon Zebo; Ian Keatley, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Eusebio Guinazu, Stephen Archer; Donnacha Ryan, Paul O’Connell; Peter O’Mahony – capt., Paddy Butler, CJ Stander.
Replacements: Duncan Casey, John Ryan, BJ Botha, Billy Holland, Jack O’Donoghue, Duncan Williams, JJ Hanrahan, Ronan O’Mahony.
Ospreys: Dan Evans, Jeff Hassler, Ben John, Josh Matavesi, Eli Walker, Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb, Nicky Smith, Scott Baldwin, Dmitri Arhip, Tyler Ardron, Alun Wyn Jones (captain), Dan Lydiate, Justin Tipuric, Dan Baker
Replacements: Sam Parry, Marc Thomas, Aaron Jarvis, Rory Thornton, James King, Tom Habberfield, Sam Davies, Jonathan Spratt
Match stats show how Munster edged possession and territory in the second half despite conceding more points
Before the game I joined in the MRSC organised guard of honour to welcome the team bus where Emma kindly took this photo for me as we awaited their arrival.
During the week I had received a text from a UK number asking if I would be at the game and available to meet up so I could be thanked for my help. I suspected that it was in relation to the “tale of 2 tickets” from my Clermont away blog and indeed it was Jerry who had originally been due to meet up to collect a ticket for that game. Unfortunately he had taken ill that weekend and had not been able to travel. He told me he was only getting back to himself now, minus 2 stone he had lost in the interim. It was nice of him to want to meet up after all the intervening months and I hope he enjoyed his weekend in Limerick.
After the game in the shade of the West Stand I felt cold in the strong breeze which had not been noticeable on the terrace and wondered if it had been the cause of so many poor kicks by both teams, as it seemed to be swirling about. Up in the MRSC bar I again met Andy, Mr Chips from the forum who introduced me to several other characters which frequent the discussion threads there including Cowboy who writes great match previews, Welsh resident Huwie, Drick, Piquet (a great man to look at quarter final permutations as the final rounds of the European competition approach) and Steve who despite the high cost of arranging a trip from the UK on such short notice on a bank holiday weekend was in great spirits. It was fun to put faces to the nicknames used on the forum and to receive compliments about my writing also.
As I chatted to Geraldine (who also featured in the tale of 2 tickets!) Kate recognised me and came over to say hello. Kate is a regular retweeter and fan of my blog although since she was actually able to get to the game for a change she put a little pressure on by saying how much she was looking forward to reading this edition to see how well it captured her experience! I look forward to her comment this week 🙂
Several people asked me if there would be a bus from Dublin to the final in Belfast. While there was not much time to get organised, by the following Monday night three busloads had been booked so it was hectic!
Some supporters already bought tickets to the final, more will avail of the 2000 allocated to Munster rugby. For others the search for tickets will focus on those with tickets whose team did not qualify or any returns from Glasgow, various competitions etc. so plenty to occupy us for the coming days. It’s great to have that problem and an extra game with the hope of some silverware to reward the team for their efforts this season.
If you are planning your first trip to Kingspan Park check out my blog from 2 weeks ago which has some useful information.
An emotional tribute to Paul O’Connell from CJ Stander was reported in the 42.ie while the team give a rousing rendition of Stand Up and Fight after the game in their dressing room
John sent me his capture of the emotional farewell from the East also – what a legend we have had the pleasure of supporting over the years.