In a fast-paced encounter on the bitterly cold evening, with occasional sleet showers thrown in, Munster broke our hearts! Looking for inspiration for this blog I turned to the bard, William Shakespeare whose sonnet #116 seemed appropriate for the day that was in it, encouraging me to keep the faith as “Love is not love Which alters when it alteration finds, ….
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, But bears it out even to the edge of doom.”
Hopefully Munster are not about to hurtle over the edge of doom but they are certainly making hard work of this season! So I will bear it out, and in line with my glass half-full philosophy I will focus on the positives. Number 1 was seeing Peter O’Mahony interviewed pitchside pre-match whose return to action (targeting April / May timeframe) will be a real boost for the squad!
Number 2 was Darren Sweetnam making just his second league start, whose try saving tackle on #14 Tom Grabham in the 18th minute really got the crowd going. We watched him turn on the after-burners when the pass from Ian Keatley to Ronan O’Mahony was intercepted as Munster were on the attack around the Ospreys 22m. Like a heat-seeking missile locked onto his target, despite the speed of his chase Sweetnam nailed the tackle, intercepting Grabham and taking him low. The next men to arrive in red (Keatley and Copeland) secured possession back for Munster. The TV coverage did not do the chase justice, he started out on our side of the pitch and as we saw him gain on his quarry our excitement levels rose as we roared him on! He got a great cheer when he got his man!
Shortly afterwards he was chasing up a garryowen by Conway when he was clearly held back but the referee did not think it was worthy of a penalty. In the second half Darren ran a great support line on Duncan Williams’ shoulder. As the sleet poured down he secured the pass and found a gap to made a break, before giving a superb offload when tackled to set up a try for Robin Copeland, Munster’s third.
Duncan Williams had scored the first try after a great blockdown when he showed a clean pair of heels to get to the try line untouched! Ian Keatley converted to give Munster a 7-0 lead.
Francis Saili has been working hard and threatening to score for some time so it was great to see him finally get his 1st official try for Munster – the pre-season friendly one does not count for the record books! – the perfect response after Sam Davies had cancelled out Duncan’s score a few minutes earlier. From the restart Munster won back possession and Rory Scannell’s pass put Saili into space on the 10m line. He still had some work to do but his step and swerve took him past the defence to score in the corner. Those on the terrace there were treated to a mini-haka type celebration – check it out in the video highlights below if you missed it! Towards the end of the game he took a bad knock when there was a clash of heads as Rhys Webb tackled him. Webb went off for a HIA but Saili was ok to finish the game after some running repairs by the medics on a cut around his eye.
Jack O’Donoghue also caught my eye, he was busy throughout and while he would have been prepared to play his favoured position of 8 he had to make the switch to 7 when Dave O’Callaghan picked up an injury after the team was announced on Friday. Jack was 22 during the week and continues to live up to his promise despite playing out of position for most of this season.
However it was to be Ospreys night. The introduction of Rhys Webb returning from injury seemed to coincide with their purple patch. Their penalty came back off the post but they upgraded the potential three pointer to five when they ran back the clearance kick and eventually scored to take the lead through Owen Watkin about the hour mark. Man of the match Sam Davies nearly scored his second try of the night but was tackled just short of the line about ten minutes later. The Ospreys were in no hurry as the clock ticked down. Munster even got a penalty moved 10m closer when an Ospreys player kicked the ball away and another time when Ospreys won a penalty Tomas O’Leary ran behind them to get the ball which he tried to hand to Davies for his kick to touch in an effort to speed them up! Davies did have a final say on the score line when he converted a penalty in the 77th minute to ensure that 3 points would not suffice for Munster.
From the restart Conway secured the kickoff and it was a few phases later when Webb and Saili clashed. The game restarted with a scrum to Munster as they sought a try to salvage the game. They pounded the black defensive line through phase after phase until the final pass was spilled and it was all over. You could see the disappointment on the players and supporters faces. There was no love lost for the referee either as at the final whistle some vented their frustration by booing him. With victory the Ospreys have closed the gap on Munster to three points, albeit Munster have a game in hand. See my previous blog for a better understanding of the permutations for European qualification.
Stats are available here – Billy Holland led the tackle count with 21 but overall Ospreys edged the key stats including line breaks, defenders beaten and offloads although they also conceded more turnovers and scored one fewer try. Munster also stole two of the Ospreys lineouts and had a good scrum. Ospreys seemed to have great line speed in defence, sometimes looking to be charging up from offside. Munster got into promising positions at times but knocked on or got isolated and penalised. Too often they tried the battering ram approach and got no joy from it, just as Ireland had experienced in Paris. A more subtle approach to picking the lock may be more effective to get past defences.
MUNSTER: Andrew Conway; Darren Sweetnam, Francis Saili, Rory Scannell, Ronan O’Mahony; Ian Keatley, Duncan Williams (Tomas O’Leary, ’71); Dave Kilcoyne, Mike Sherry (Niall Scannell, ’54), John Ryan (Mario Sagario, ’71); Dave Foley, Mark Chisholm (Shane Buckley, ’62); Billy Holland, Jack O’Donoghue, Robin Copeland. Not used: Peter McCabe, Conor Oliver, Cian Bohane, David Johnston.
OSPREYS: Dan Evans; Tom Grabham, JJ Engelbrecht, Josh Matavesi (Owen Watkin, ’45), Ben John; Sam Davies, Brendon Leonard (Rhys Webb, ’51, Tom Habberfield ‘79); Nicky Smith (Gareth Thomas, ’51), Sam Parry (Scott Otten, ’65), Dimitri Arhip (Ma’afu Fia, ‘10); Rynier Bernardo (Adam Beard, ’71), Rory Thornton; Joe Bearman (Olly Cracknell, ’51), Sam Underhill, Dan Baker.
Thanks to the mother and daughter who made us smile when they flashed up on the big screen with their poster – “Leinster by birth, Munster by the grace of Mamma!” and all the romantic couples in the Stand who shared a moment on the “kiss cam” during half-time while I got a Valentine’s day hug from Oscar before kick-off. Next Friday’s game against Glasgow takes on extra significance after this loss. The Warriors are currently outside European Cup qualification and will be looking to mount a challenge to get into contention. It should be a cracker. I feel sorry for their supporters having to travel 26 miles to Rugby Park in Kilmarnock as Scotstoun is still waterlogged and for any of the Red Army who had made plans to get to Glasgow for the original Saturday kick-off. C’mon Munster, time to step back from the “edge of doom”! (Reminds me of Frazer in Dad’s Army who was always saying “We’re doomed!!”)
Update Feb 19th:
Darren Sweetnam said about that try-saving tackle: “The big thing about Munster is work rate and when I saw Tom Grabham making the break I knew I had to sprint as fast as I could and luckily I got there and made the tackle – nothing worse than getting there and missing the tackle.”