A four-pointer that should have been a five-pointer.
It sounds pretty brutal but it’s true enough, I think. This was a game that Munster dominated possession and territory but were still in danger of possibly losing up heading into the last three or four minutes until Tadhg Beirne did his usual Superman routine.
Look, the four points are hugely welcome and I think that this win on the road against a dogged defensive unit like the Ospreys with a squad dug from fairly deep in the depth chart is a sign of how far we’ve developed as a unit away from home. But with the ball and territory that we had, we should have been out of sight heading into the last quarter as limited as the Ospreys are in their current Test Window guise and I think we’ll be judging ourselves by those standards in the HPC this week.
There was quite a bit of good in this game, but enough sloppiness and inaccuracy to make it a small but sour on the replay. Think of it like a good burger that went down well in the restaurant, but repeats on you just a little too much on the way home. I promise there’ll be no more burger analogies in the rest of this.
I think this was as good an opening few minutes as I’ve seen from Munster in the PRO14. We were aggressive, direct and played with a tempo that the Ospreys couldn’t really live with.
Our screens were tight off good, hard carries and we regularly dragged the Ospreys backfield defence out of position to be attacked through the boot.
I spoke about this kind of kicking scheme in the Red Eye pre-game, and we certainly went after it here to good effect, especially in the early going. We made some decent inroads with that tactic but the first try, scored after seven minutes, would show us the code that would crack the Ospreys in this game – taking it through the forwards.
We went over the top off a lineout to Jaco Taute on the crash and then just drilled right up the middle of the Ospreys.
That won’t work against every side or in every moment of every game, of course, but the tempo and gain line that we won in this instance drew the Ospreys in, narrowed their defensive line and created space to work outside. When the chance came to strike, we took it.
We didn’t really push on from there, though. In some ways, I think we took the wrong lessons from this try and let the ball out of the forwards a little too quickly for the next while. We were playing a little too much rugby, when simplicity was doing the job so well.
We spurned a few opportunities as the first quarter ticked on and then started compounding errors to concede Osprey’s first try in three games.
The first was a poorly resourced ruck a little too far away from the forwards and with an inaccurate cleanout. That was followed by a fairly obvious offside call on Hanrahan.
No complaints on this one.
From the resulting lineout, we bit in too hard on the screened receiver and didn’t stop the ball. That gave Giles – one of the quickest wingers in the PRO14 – all the space he’d need to create a very good try for the Ospreys.
If Nash takes the man here, he stops Price dead and creates space for a possible turnover but he doesn’t get him – that created the space for the Ospreys to execute and they did so excellently. Should Nash have held and drifted out with the play? We can say yes now but that’s the difficulty with defending on the edge of the line – mistakes are more expensive. He’ll learn from it.
At 7-7, we seemed to double down on the wrong learnings from the first try. After pressurising the Ospreys off a lovely angled kick from Haley in behind their winger off a centre-field ruck…
… we pressured the Ospreys into a serious of mistakes. Off a defensive lineout, the Ospreys overthrew and Marshall took possession. We began to chew through the tight phases until we reached the 5m line.
For me, I’d want another few tight phases here to pressurise the Ospreys and the simple pass to Wycherley at the end of this GIF as he lines up across from the Ospreys flyhalf 5m out seems to be the easy decision.
Instead, we went wide too quickly when it wasn’t really on.
Hanrahan might have hit Haley here, or lofted a pass over to Nash for a simple finish but instead, the ball went dead. Nash overran his line, yes, but I think he might have been expecting a kick. Either way, it was indicative of overplaying it. The Ospreys took the lead a short while later. When Munster regained the lead before halftime, it was through the forwards again – a strong maul led to a series of tight carries before Beirne was prevented from touching the ball onto the base of the posts by Sam Cross. Penalty try. Yellow card.
I don’t think the Ospreys can have too many complaints but, in truth, the “base of the padding” law is something that I think needs to be changed up because it’s almost impossible for the Ospreys to defend this legally because they have to start behind the line, while the padding is a few inches in front. Anyway, Munster won’t be complaining.
The Ospreys took the lead in the second half after more bitty Munster play. The scrappy time between minutes 40 and 65 cost a shot at a bonus point win, and we looked a little directionless at times between turning the ball over through the hands and losing balls at the ruck. At 13-12 with just under 15 minutes remaining, Munster were looking under pressure but the bench impact began to tell. That was especially true in the manner in which Munster scored the winning try. A 30-phase special, this try scored by Mike Haley was the distillation of everything good that Munster did in this game, with the forwards to the fore.
The finish was easy – after 30 phases, the Ospreys were out on their feet and leaving gaps in the wide channels.
Mathewson hit Johnston, who threw the killer pass to Haley.
That platform was created by a superb bit of ball retention. Look at the ruck scores for this 30 phase sequence.
|Player||Dominant Action||Guard Action||Passive Action||Ineffective Action|
The standout players are Holland, Wycherley and Parker, in particular. It was superb work rate, patience and making sure that the ball only left the forwards when it was actually on, not when it was wanted. A missed conversion put us under more pressure than we needed in the end game, as did an uncharacteristic timing error from Mathewson at the back of a ruck that lead to a scrum penalty and a five-metre lineout that was subsequently stolen by Beirne. That extinguished the Ospreys threat and lead to a fairly handy ending.
A point left behind, perhaps, but still a good win on the road all the same. Munster stay top of the conference with a trip to the Scarlets to come. A win there would go a long way to securing top spot in this conference, but with three of the last four games at home, our destiny lies firmly in our own hands as the regular season draws to a close. Far from perfect, but a win is a win baby.
The Wally Ratings: Ospreys (A)
As per usual, players are rated based on their time on the pitch, if they were playing notably out of position, and on the overall curve of the team performance. DNP means the player did not feature and N/A means they weren’t on the pitch long enough to warrant a fair rating given the way the game went.
I thought Fineen Wycherley, Billy Holland, Arno Botha and Ciaran Parker all had notable games in the forwards. Parker’s work rate and rucking was really prevalent in the third try. Wycherley was destructive in defence, rucked really well and was a reliable lineout option. Holland was his usual industrial self and excelled in the gritty, lesser seen jobs that always need doing. Botha was a powerful ball carrier for us and looked really good all through the carrying lines.
Tadhg Beirne was different gravy, though. He played like a guy pissed off that he was in Swansea rather than Rome. Then again, who wouldn’t? No disrespect meant to Swansea of course – I’m talking about test rugby. Beirne wants it and he didn’t get it. Ospreys took the brunt of it as a very, very good rugby player hit Swansea like a typhoon. Beirne looked like a guy who was operating on a slightly higher gear than anyone else.
He had big moments everywhere.
Need a breakdown turnover?
Tadhg will sort it for you.
Need a perfect offload on a midfield carry to help create a linebreak?
Tadhg has you covered.
Need a last minute lineout steal on your own line to win the game?
Tadhg’s got you, baby.
He’s just really, really, really good at what he does and showed everyone why he should have been in Rome. We’re just lucky he was in Swansea. He probably flew the plane over himself and landed it in reverse. He’s just that good. ★★★★★
After a watch back, I thought Mike Haley was outstanding. He’s another player that tends to do the right thing at the right time. He scored the killer try, yes, but his work shines in what he doesn’t allow to happen. Take this, for example.
That’s a really good kick from the Ospreys but Haley makes it look average by the quality of his positioning. His kick angles right over the head of Price and forces him to kick back at a disadvantage. It’s a small thing, but it’s the kind of thing that you only notice isn’t there when the fullback runs back the ball when it’s not on and turns over the ball, leaving a kickable space in behind him.
Haley kicked smartly and accurately in open play;
He handled the ball well at first receiver and showed up there repeatedly, and as a screen passer on wider plays.
He stood up to the Ospreys’ aerial bombardment;
He was just very, very good. When I watch these games back, I have a list of the players and I put a check mark next to their name when they do something good or interesting. Haley had a lot of checkmarks for just doing the right thing at the right time. He was class here ★★★★★
There’s much to cover in this game and I’ll be doing that in TRK Premium all week long with GIF and Video Articles.