MUNSTER were narrowly beaten by the Ospreys in a tense and feisty Heineken Cup game in the Liberty Stadium in Swansea this Saturday evening.
After a dramatic match, which saw Munster cross the Ospreys line twice as opposed to their Welsh opponents, who scored just one try, the Irish province were admittedly lucky to hang on for a precious losing bonus point at the death, with the Ospreys battering their try line in the closing moments of the game.
Failure to secure a bonus point would have left Munster reeling and almost certainly out of the competition, and while they will now face a tough away trip to Toulon early in the new year before a final pool match against London Irish in Thomond Park, Munster will be relieved to be still within a shout of the knockout stages.
Munster could feel unlucky not to have snuck a precious away win in this third round encounter, but the Ospreys virtual destruction of their scrum gave the Welsh team a platform on which to establish their hard fought victory.
Both teams exchanged early penalties in a bitterly cold Liberty Stadium, before Munster prop Tony Buckley powered over for a try after superb handling from his team-mates Sam Tuitupou and Denis Leamy.
However, the Ospreys hit back straight away with a try through scrum half Mike Phillips, converted beautifully by young outhalf Dan Biggar, who added a penalty after 35 minutes, making it 13-10 to the home side at half time.
Biggar added an early penalty in the opening stages of the second half, but after huge pressure and an excellent kick and chase by Howlett, flying winger Keith Earls gathered to run a superb try over the line just before the hour mark. Ronan O'Gara missed the conversion, leaving the score at 16-15.
Pressure on the Munster scrum gave Biggar a kickable penalty on 66 minutes, which he duly converted, making it 19-15 with just 15 minutes left on the clock.
The Munster scrum was put under huge pressure in the closing minutes and in a frantic finish Munster winger Lifemi Mafi was yellow carded as the Ospreys pushed for the try that would deny Munster a precious losing bonus, the Irish team eventually doing enough to deny the home side, the game finishing 19-15.
In the other game in the pool Toulon beat London Irish 38-17, securing a bonus point and going top of the pool on 13 points, with Munster second on 11 and Ospreys on 10.
Munster must now win both of their remaining games to qualify for the knock-out stages.
FOR A FULL REPORT AND REACTION TO THE MATCH, SEE MONDAY'S LIMERICK LEADER TABLOID EDITION.
**** In local news, tomorrow's ODM Financial Munster Senior Cup Final between Bruff and Garryowen in Thomond Park has been postponed due to adverse weather conditions.