Foley at heart of Munster's muscle

Munster 20 - Neath-Swan Opsreys 10
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The Independent Online

To win a championship, you need different players to step up at different times, and Munster can thank Anthony Foley for five minutes' work yesterday. They got past the Ospreys without Ronan O'Gara, but they wouldn't have got past them if it weren't for Foley.

In those five minutes shortly before half-time Foley rolled over for a try and then set up another. Other than those two plays though, this was dogged stuff. Though Paul Burke's goal-kicking was impressive, the rest of his game was not. But Munster were disciplined, especially in defending their own line.

The home side started the scoring with a Burke penalty, and when the Ospreys re-start failed to go 10 metres it seemed as if the Thomond Park factor was already getting to the visitors. Wrong.

Within a minute of that hashed re-start a Munster attack was interrupted and Jason Spice kicked the ball along the wing for Shane Williams to kick calmly on past Mike Mullins and touch down. Gavin Henson converted. It would be wrong to say Munster were rattled but their play was markedly tentative.

Burke was not making inroads either by kicking or running, the forwards were out of sorts and then Christian Cullen dropped an innocuous ball in the right corner, affording Neath a line-out metres from the Munster goal-line. Munster were living on the edge, looking as vulnerable as they have ever been at their fortress home.

But then came those huge plays from Foley. It started with a decent break from midfield, which seemed to come unstuck after a poor pass to Mossie Lawlor's ankles. But Munster kept the drive going forward and eventually rolled their way over in the 33rd minute, Foley being the one to touch down.

If that try was born out of perspiration, the one that followed it three minutes later was made out of inspiration when Foley played a brilliantly deft short kick for Cullen to slide on to. The crowd had to stand and applaud that - and wish that there was a replay screen in the ground to see the play again. Burke's subsequent diagonal conversion was a model of conviction. Suddenly it was 17-7 at half-time and Munster were back in complete control.

The Ospreys seemed to know it too. Within two minutes of the resumption, Shane Williams knocked-on a high dropping ball in front of his own posts as the pressure began to get to the visitors. After some other Osprey errors, Burke was presented with a penalty to make it 20-7. And when he finally came up with a fine kick to the corner, it seemed very likely that Munster would add another seven points.

But they didn't. The Ospreys withstood that pressure and then applied some of their own. In the 60th minute it resulted in a penalty, which Henson opted to kick at goal. The match wasn't over.

The Ospreys pretty much owned the ball after that, but they lacked the penetration to break the Munster defensive line. There was a moment when it seemed Henson could be in but Cullen stopped him metres from the line with a fine low tackle. And when the former All Black forced David Bishop over the sideline again by the right corner moments from the time, you knew Munster were just about going to hold out.

Munster: C Cullen; M Lawlor, S Payne, M Mullins, A Horgan; P Burke, P Stringer; M Horan, F Sheahan, J Hayes, D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell, A Quinlan, A Foley (capt), D Leamy. Replacements: G McIlwham, J Flannery, T Hogan, J Williams, M Prendergast, J Holland, J Storey.

Neath-Swansea Ospreys: A Durston; S Terblanche, S Parker, G Henson, S Williams; M Jones, J Spice; D Jones, B Williams (capt), A Millward, B Cockbain, J Thomas, J Bater, R Pugh, R Jones. Replacements: R Hibbard, P James, A Jones, A Newman, A Lloyd, D Bishop, E Seveali'i

Referee: C White (England).