Jones turns screw to put Munster in reverse
Ospreys 19 Munster 15
Monday 20 December 2010
The last time the Heineken Cup knockout stages did not feature Munster, Dan Biggar was still in primary school and Adam Jones was sporting a short back and sides. For the first time in a dozen years, will the two-time champions really not make the quarter-finals?
Writing off the Irishmen is daft to the point of risking being sectioned, but this defeat means, at the very least, that the prospect deserves consideration. After all, their captain, Denis Leamy, believes his men must win their last two games to have any chance. And next up they happen to be travelling to Jonny Wilkinson's Toulon.
Lose at Stade Mayol and, providing the Ospreys win at the already eliminated London Irish, everything in Pool Three – this most macabre "Pool of Death" – would rest on a Welsh-French shootout at the Liberty Stadium. Munster, meanwhile, would be on the outside looking on, praying that five points against the Exiles would secure one of the two best runners-up spots. In that regard they might just be helped by the losing point they characteristically clung on to on Saturday.
There is still bemusement in the valleys as to why Romain Poite informed Alun Wyn Jones, the Ospreys captain, that there wasn't time for scrums in the final seconds; but then little the French referee did made too much sense in a feisty contest.
Leamy made a thinly-veiled complaint about Poite's handling of the set-piece, as he awarded repeated penalties to the home side; although, in truth, such was the dominance of Adam Jones and Co it was difficult to see how else he could have acted.
What did seem almost certain was a penalty try if Poite had allowed the Ospreys to take the scrum option under the visitors' posts with the final whistle looming. Perhaps an empty-handed trip back across the sea would have been harsh on Munster, as despite being annihilated in the scrum, they did have their chances. Furthermore, scores from Keith Earls and Tony Buckley meant they won the try count 2-1, with only Mike Phillips crossing the whitewash for the Ospreys.
Yet that statistic masked a few deficiencies and not just in their powder-puffed front row. There doesn't seem great penetration or inventiveness in the Munster midfield, and this was in contrast to the Ospreys. For them, Biggar enjoyed one of his finest games to date, faultless with the kicking tee and supremely controlled with ball out of hand and off boot. Had Phillips, at scrum-half, not endured such an indifferent game, the Ospreys could have been celebrating rather more than merely their first victory over Munster in the competition.
"I'm happy, not delighted," said Scott Johnson, their director of coaching. "We can't allow ourselves to get carried away because there were one or two areas where we didn't quite get it right. We've had a sensational line-out all year but it wasn't at its best. Fortunately, the scrum set the tone for us. Yet credit has to go to young Daniel [Biggar]. If he wasn't converting the penalties, we wouldn't be talking about our scrum now."
But he did and they are and Ospreys are sensing one of their more notable achievements. "It's going to be interesting but I think our destiny is in our hands," said Johnson.
"We play Toulon here on the final weekend and that could give us a good opportunity to control the pool. But we've got to go to Irish before that and get something and Munster can vouch for how difficult that is. The only thing I can guarantee is it's going down to the wire."
Scorers: Ospreys - Try: M Phillips. Conversion: Biggar. Penalties: Biggar 4. Munster - Tries: Buckley, Earls. Conversion: O'Gara. Penalty: O'Gara.
Ospreys: B Davies (A Bishop, 77); N Walker, T Bowe, J Hook, R Fussell, D Biggar; M Phillips; P James (D Jones, 65), R Hibbard, A Jones, R Jones (I Gough, 65). A W Jones (capt), J Collins, M Holah, J Thomas.
Munster: P Warwick; D Howlett, K Earls, S Tuitupou (L Mafi, 66), J Murphy; R O'Gara, T O'Leary (P Stringer, 55); W du Preez, D Varley, T Buckley (J Hayes, 53), D O'Callaghan (D Ryan, 70), M O'Driscoll, J Coughlin (A Quinlan, 55), D Wallace, D Leamy (capt).
Referee: R Poite (France).
Man of the match: Adam Jones.
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