Munster claimed a morale-boosting win over the Ospreys, the recently crowned EDF Energy Cup champions, as an injury-time penalty goal from Paul Warwick decided this Saturday night clash in Cork.
The Ospreys are still winless away from home in this season’s Magners League, with Shane Williams’ last-second drop goal attempt agonisingly shaving the left upright and going wide.
Munster, with a largely second string line-up on show, survived ten minutes of injury-time. Paul Warwick’s hat trick of penalty goals set the province up nicely for next weekend’s Heineken Cup assault.
A swirling wind proved difficult to judge, particular for Ospreys out-half James Hook who missed three of his four penalty attempts in the opening half.
The Welsh international opened the scoring with a towering third-minute kick.
It was a busy start from both sides with Tomas O’Leary, the man who is keeping Peter Stringer on the bench, at his sniping best and Ospreys skipper Filo Tiatia threw his weight around with some bone-crunching tackles.
Munster supporters gulped when they heard that captain Paul O’Connell was a late withdrawal for this game, especially with their European semi-final against Saracens only a week away.
But a spokesman for the province insisted that the second row, who is nursing a slight hip injury, was taken out of the side as a precaution.
Hook’s second penalty miss was followed by Munster’s opening score, 13 minutes in.
Two breaks by the lively O’Leary helped set up a straightforward penalty for Warwick to ping through the posts.
The Heineken Cup semi-finalists then found some space down the left wing but Anthony Horgan’s pass drifted into touch.
Munster found more joy out on the left but veteran full-back Shaun Payne was hauled down by Johnny Vaughton as the try line came within view.
On the whole, the Ospreys struggled to gain momentum with Hook off target with his kicks.
Coming up to half-time, Munster smelt blood with Warwick booting a kickable penalty to touch.
Federico Pucciariello was held up five metres from the line and the Ospreys weathered the storm. Warwick missed his second penalty kick, leaving it 3-3 at the break.
Lyn Jones’ men made a strong start to the second period. The evergreen Tiatia bulldozed his way through the middle only to be stopped by Payne’s shuddering tackle.
The Ospreys were beginning to click and a better bounce of the ball, off his own chip kick, maye have see Vaughton over for a try in the right corner.
With Peter Stringer, Anthony Foley and Jerry Flannery introduced into the game, Munster held the edge up front and Warwick soon booted his side into a 6-3 lead.
15 minutes from the end, Munster had their best try-scoring chance. A thunderous tackle by Flannery on Vaughton produced a turnover, Keith Earls backed himself to make the line on a 30-yard dash but he was smothered up and the loose ball knocked on.
Hook’s disappointing night continued when his 73rd-minute penalty effort bounced back off the post.
But there seemed to be light at the end of the tunnel for the Ospreys when, just a minute later, Sonny Parker touched down in the right corner.
Tiatia began the blindside move on the Munster ten-metre line, sending Parker into the space and the powerful centre bounced off Warwick’s tackle to crash over the line.
Hook missed the conversion though and he was made to pay by his opposite number.
Four minutes into injury-time, Marcus Horan charged down a Justin Marshall kick and replacement Gareth Owen was pinged for a ruck infringement, allowing Warwick to land the match-winning kick.