Munster still in hunt for URC title after outplaying Ospreys

Irish province will now meet the winners of Glasgow and Stormers in the semi-finals

Munster’s Simon Zebo celebrates scoring their first try with teammates. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

URC: Munster 23 Ospreys 7

Back-to-back United Rugby Championships (URC) remained alive for defending champions Munster after they outplayed an Ospreys side for almost the entire match in Thomond Park.

Munster will now meet the winners of Glasgow and Stormers, who play in Scotstoun on Saturday in the URC semifinals.

Ospreys, the first Welsh side to make the league play-offs in six years, squeezed into the quarterfinal with a final day win in the regular season over Cardiff to gain eighth place and arrived in Limerick as self-appointed longshots.


“Sometimes it’s easier to be the underdogs, there’s a bit less pressure and no one expects you to get a result,” said Welsh flanker Jac Morgan before the match.

Most would have agreed with Morgan and the bookies, who had Munster 15-point favourites. Seeking their 10th URC win in succession, enough to call it a bona fide winning streak, Munster opened with a pyrotechnic start with team favourite Simon Zebo cheering up the 14,072 crowd within two minutes of the match starting.

Munster were up tempo from the off and instantly raided the Ospreys 22. Twice they made ground on the left side of the pitch only to be repelled before the ball was switched right allowing Zebo stamp his early mark on the game.

Accelerating between the centres and winger Keelan Giles, Zebo made enough ground to throw his body over, Jack Crowley with a straightforward conversion into the wind for 7-0.

But Ospreys were not about to allow the match to become a procession and minutes later inside centre Keiran Williams snatched at a bouncing ball and delivered to Giles. This time the left wing became provider and raced across the Munster line, outhalf Owen Williams converting for Ospreys to draw level 7-7.

That stunned the crowd for a few moments as Munster were in control of territory and possession. But they weren’t going to allow the lapse fester and soon enough were back in the Welsh side’s 22. A penalty scrum against suggested that might be an area of concern, which was not born out.

Soon after the home side chose to kick for an attacking lineout after 17 minutes. Captain Tadhg Beirne rose perfectly to secure the ball and the Munster bodies flowed in for the push. Munster inched forward and hooker Nial Scannell broke off the back bumping Williams backwards as he touched down.

Crowley again converted for 14-7 before Shane Daly almost finished off a try of the season after a cross field kick from the outhalf. Controlling the falling ball expertly with his foot, Daly chased up the left only for the Ospreys cover to get to it first. But Crowley finished off the scoring in the half with a penalty on 27 minutes and 17-7.

A telling moment came late in the half on 37 minutes, when Ospreys earned a five-metre scrum. By then Munster had two scrum penalties awarded against them. But a huge push won it against the head, Peter O’Mahony punching the air in delight as Munster closed the half ahead.

Munster had weathered Ospreys pressure for the last 10 minutes but again opened brightly in the second half and immediately put the ball deep into the Ospreys territory. Again Ospreys defended heroically after RG Snyman took the ball and Munster gathered around. It was to be a feature of the second half with Justin Tipuric particularly effective in leading his side in defence.

For 10 minutes Munster battered at Ospreys under their posts and might have felt a little light on points when they came away with nothing tangible. But they were playing in the right areas of the pitch and really Ospreys had not fired a shot since they scored the try early in the first half.

Then RG was taped up for a head wound as Munster became more canny with their tactics. The driving maul was being rebuffed by Ospreys and midway through the second half Crowley began to work the scoreboard. With another huge roar from the crowd, it was Munster who again won a scrum penalty with Crowley opting to kick for the posts and expertly land for 20-7.

It seemed the sensible thing to do at that stage as Ospreys were feeling the pressure and were being forced into making mistakes. For almost the entire second half it was Munster playing football in the Ospreys territory and on 62 minutes Huw Sutton didn’t roll away and Player of the Match Crowley was offered a kick again.

He chose the posts and landed it sweetly. Munster at that stage had one foot in the semifinal. It closed 23-7 with Munster pressing forward, in control and earning another match at Thomond Park next week.

Scoring sequence: 2 mins S Zebo try, J Crowley con 7-0; 5 mins K Giles try, O Williams con 7-7; 17 mins N Scannell try, Crowley con 14-7; 27 mins Crowley 17-7. Halftime. 58 mins Crowley pen 20-7; 62 minutes Crowley pen 23-7.

MUNSTER: Simon Zebo; Calvin Nash, Antoine Frisch, Seán O’Brien, Shane Daly; Jack Crowley, Craig Casey; Jeremy Loughman, Niall Scannell, Stephen Archer; RG Snyman, Tadhg Beirne (capt); Peter O’Mahony, John Hodnett, Gavin Coombes.

Replacements: Diarmuid Barron for Scannell 47 mins, Oli Jager for Archer 47 mins, Jack O’Donoghue for O’Mahony 47 mins, Mike Haley for Zebo 54 mins, Conor Murray for Casey 59 mins, John Ryan for Loughman 62 mins, Alex Kendellen for Hodnett 62 mins, Tony Butler for Frisch 69 mins

OSPREYS: Max Nagy; Luke Morgan, Owen Watkin, Keiran Williams, Keelan Giles; Owen Williams, Reuben Morgan-Williams; Nicky Smith, Dewi Lake, Tom Botha; James Ratti, Huw Sutton; Jac Morgan, Justin Tipuric (capt), Morgan Morris.

Replacements: Sam Parry for Lake55 mins, Rhys Henry for Botha 55 mins, Gareth Thomas for Smith 65 mins, Luke Davies for Morgan-Williams 69 mins, Harri Houston for Nagy 70 mins, Victor Sekekete for Sutton 71 mins, Morgan Morse for Morris 74 mins, Luke Scully for Giles 80 mins

Referee: Hollie Davidson (SRU)

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times