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Munster Regain Top Spot From The Ospreys

Munster Regain Top Spot From The Ospreys

The Ospreys lost at home for the first time in eight matches this season as tries from Lifeimi Mafi and Tomas O’Leary helped Munster prevail at the Liberty Stadium and move back to the top of the Magners League.

Munster, ending their recent poor run in the league, manufactured their first win away to the Ospreys since a European Cup pool victory at the Gnoll in October 2004 and they had to do it the hard way.

With Ronan O’Gara nursing a hamstring injury, Paul Warwick deputised in the number 10 jersey but he had to be replaced in the 33rd minute due to a facial injury.

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Garryowen clubman Conan Doyle was brought on for his Magners League debut and he acquitted himself well, kicking two second half penalties before a tactical switch saw him called ashore and scrum half Tomas O’Leary stepped up to land what proved to be the match-winning penalty.

O’Leary was a deserving winner of the man-of-the-match award thanks to an energetic 80-minute display which included a timely try and some notable individual moments.

The surefooted place-kicking of James Hook, who kicked seven out of eight penalty attempts, saw the Ospreys battle back and take an 18-14 lead as the game ticked towards the final quarter.

But a Doyle penalty and O’Leary’s eight-point salvo saw Munster wrestle back control of the scoreboard and make it six succesive wins against Welsh opposition since Cardiff beat them at the Arms Park last March.

The Ospreys rested some of their leading lights, including team captain Ryan Jones, Gavin Henson and Adam Jones, but coach Sean Holley still has some considerable talent at his disposal as the Welsh region looked to follow up on their festive wins over the Scarlets and Cardiff Blues.

Their biggest pre-match boost was that winger Shane Williams was fit to start after recovering from a shoulder injury.

But once the game began, it was Munster who looked the more determined side having suffered a heavy home defeat to Ulster last weekend.

Back to provide inspiration and forward grunt, Munster captain Paul O’Connell helped create an early opening from which centre Lifeimi Mafi was sent through for a fourth minute try.

Munster recycled the ball quickly and after some clever lines of runnings, Mafi wormed his way over in the right corner past Lee Byrne’s last-ditch tackle.

Television match official Nigel Whitehouse confirmed the grounding and although Warwick missed the conversion, he was able to respond to Hook’s opening penalty with one of his own in the ninth minute.

Both defences were tested as play swung between the 22s and the Ospreys looked poised to score when Andrew Bishop evaded two tacklers and gain good ground.

But Munster’s defending was up to the task and when a hole did appear, the visitors did their best to patch it up and this was particularly evident when O’Leary shot across to produce an excellent cover tackle and deny Jonny Vaughton a certain try.

Vaughton was ruled to have had a foot in touch before he lunged over in the left corner. The incident did come from the Ospreys backs’ best move of the half and it showed just how dangerous they can be.

Hook and Warwick swapped another penalty apiece before the former missed an effort from distance for his only wayward place-kick of the night.

The Ospreys were looking the more likely to score as the half went on, with Williams linking well out wide with Byrne.

In the end, they had to settle for a third Hook penalty as the gap was closed for half-time to 11-9.

Munster ended the half with Doyle in the fly-half hot seat, after Warwick had been caught in the face by a stray leg.

Hook continued his role as the Ospreys’ chief points scorer, kicking two superb penalty goals (one of which was from halfway) as the Welsh region moved into the lead for the first time.

But with their pack working hard for each other, Munster showed their experience as they won a kickable penalty in the 52nd minute and Doyle was able to bisect the posts.

As the game continued to ebb and flow, Munster pressed for a try when flanker David Wallace powered forward off the back of a ruck but his support was lacking and he was pinged for holding on in the tackle.

Williams then upped the ante as he tapped the penalty and darted through a gap between O’Connell and Jerry Flannery.

Hook and Vaughton were up in support and Munster were in all sorts of trouble as the Ospreys raced towards the whitewash.

Munster winger Ian Dowling then stepped in to kill the ball at a ruck close to the try-line and a yellow card was forthcoming.

Hook’s resulting penalty made it 18-14 to the hosts but once again, Munster struck back quickly when Ospreys flanker Steve Tandy was sin-binned for a similar offence and Doyle doubled his tally by splitting the posts.

Munster took a sudden hold of the game, with their forwards enjoying the one-man advantage. O’Connell and company made the hard yards before Mafi turned creator and exposed a gap on the left for the supporting O’Leary to crash over for his try.

Doyle missed the conversion and the Munster management surprised many by withdrawing the new man, switching O’Leary to out-half and bringing the experienced Peter Stringer into the fray at scrum half.

The move had the desired effect as O’Leary, handed the place-kicking duties, put over a penalty 11 minutes from the finish to stretch Munster’s advantage to 25-18.

Hook booted his seventh penalty to set up a cliffhanger of a finish but the Ospreys could not conjure up a late try and Munster, mostly through their solid defence and clever game-management, deservedly chalked up their first ever win at the Liberty Stadium.