MUNSTER received a reality check ahead of further crucial RaboDirect PRO12 and Heineken Cup pool fixtures after suffering a heavy 30-15 defeat to the Ospreys at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday.
The result should serve to steel Rob Penney’s side, with the glamour PRO12 clash with arch rivals Leinster now looming large on the horizon.
Munster coach Penney will take his charges to the Aviva Stadium this Saturday (6.30pm) to face the European champions. Leinster will have their own point to prove having shipped a heavy defeat to Connacht at the Sportsground on Friday night.
The Ospreys have something of an Indian sign on Munster right now, with the Welsh region achieving a treble over the province in the PRO12 last season, while Munster’s only win at the Liberty Stadium since 2009 was a 22-20 triumph in April 2011.
Munster lost Tommy O’Donnell to the bin just after half-time, during which time Ospreys scored a decisive penalty try, before Damien Varley was sent off for a kick five minutes from time.
Richard Fussell scored the opening try for Ospreys and the home side’s domination up-front resulted in a second half penalty try.
Richard Hibbard crossed for a third try while Dan Biggar produced a fine kicking performance with 15 points.
The Ospreys made a confident start to the contest, going 13-0 up against the Munstermen, who were forced into an early change when scrumhalf Conor Murray was replaced by Peter Stringer due to a head injury.
After Biggar kicked two penalties to put Ospreys ahead, an attempted box kick by Stringer on the 22 was charged down, allowing the Ospreys to move the ball through centre Andrew Bishop for Fussell to go over.
Biggar missed a fourth penalty attempt before the Ospreys defence was called on to hold firm in the face of an improved passage of play by Munster.
O’Gara twice kicked penalties before the break to reduce the deficit to 13-6, and that became 13-9 three minutes after the interval when he added a third.
The Ospreys stopped the rot with a fourth Biggar penalty after Munster flanker O’Donnell was sin-binned.
The strength of the Ospreys pack was shown up when they were given a penalty try from a scrum after 54 minutes. Biggar duly added the extras to take the lead out to 23-9.
O’Gara kicked a fourth penalty after Munster changed five of their pack, while his replacement Keatley slotted a fifth to cut the deficit to eight points with 14 minutes remaining.
But an incisive attack started by Fussell saw Hibbard go over for the home side’s third try to finally take the game away from Munster.
Meanwhile, there’s a very youthful look to the Munster Heineken Cup squad announced by the province, with 17 of the 38 under 25 years of age.
The squad includes seven players who will be experiencing Heineken Cup fare for the first time.
It also includes Academy hooker Duncan Casey and recent senior debutant JJ Hanrahan, of UL-Bohemian.
OSPREYS – Richard Fussell; Hanno Dirksen, Andrew Bishop, Ashley Beck, Tom Isaacs; Dan Biggar, Kahn Fotuali’i; Ryan Bevington, Richard Hibbard, Aaron Jarvis, Alun Wyn Jones (capt), Ian Evans, Ryan Jones, Justin Tipuric, Joe Bearman. Replacements: Duncan Jones for Jarvis, Jonathan Thomas for Bearman, Adam Jones for Bevington (all 59 mins), Scott Baldwin for Hibbard (70 mins), Ross Jones for Fussell (70 mins), Gorge Stowers for R Jones (73 mins), Rhys Webb for Fotuali’i (73 mins), Matthew Morgan for Beck (75 mins).
MUNSTER – Denis Hurley; Doug Howlett (capt), Keith Earls, Casey Laulala, Simon Zebo; Ronan O’Gara, Conor Murray; Wian du Preez, Mike Sherry, Stephen Archer, Donncha O’Callaghan, Billy Holland, Tommy O’Donnell, Niall Ronan, Paddy Butler. Replacements: Peter Stringer for Murray (14 mins), Damien Varley for Sherry, Dave Kilcoyne for Du Preez, BJ Botha for Archer, Donnacha Ryan for Holland, Peter O’Mahony for Butler (all 55 mins), Ian Keatley for O’Gara (59 mins), James Downey for Zebo (71 mins), Mike Sherry for O’Donnell (74 mins)
REFEREE – Dudley Phillips (Ireland)