Munster ‘A’ opened their British & Irish Cup title defence with a 24-6 win over the Ospreys Premiership Select in Swansea this afternoon.
After a nip and tuck first half, the hosts led 6-3 at the break, however a clinical closing 40 minutes saw Peter Malone's charges click as they crossed for three tries, scored by Kevin O'Byrne, Gavin Coombes and John Poland. JJ Hanrahan kicked seven points, while replacement Bill Johnston landed the final conversion.
In a low-scoring first half at St. Helen's, there was an exchange of penalties in the opening 30 minutes with Ospreys number 10 Phil Jones splitting the posts from near halfway following a Munster 'A' maul infringement, while Hanrahan replied with his own effort when the Welshmen were caught offside after 27 minutes.
The men in red, who were captained by David Johnston from full-back, coughed up another three points just before referee Fergus Kirby's half-time whistle and Jones, having missed his second shot at the posts, stepped up to nudge his side in front.
On the resumption, Munster 'A' pressure paid off with an early O'Byrne seven-pointer from a powerful carry off the back of a ruck, and minutes later the defending champions thought they were over again through James Hart, only for the score to be ruled out by referee Kirby.
With the Ospreys losing captain Will Jones to the sin-bin for collapsing a maul, the province made no mistake with their next scoring opportunity. They attacked off a five-metre scrum and Academy flanker Coombes, with solid support from O'Byrne and Ronan Coffey, made it over to the left of the posts. Hanrahan again kicked the extras to open up a 17-6 advantage.
Those two tries in a 10-minute spell showed how clinical Munster 'A' could be, with their powerful set of forwards beginning to boss the exchanges and scrum half Hart's cultured left boot keeping the province playing in the right areas of the pitch.
Advancing into the final quarter, the visitors continued to apply the pressure in attack and were relentless when they had to defend. After replacement Mike Sherry was tackled just short of the whitewash, a quick pick up from replacement scrum half Poland did the trick as he lunged over for the province's final try with three minutes remaining. Bill Johnston was successful with the final conversion.
Praising the influence of senior player Hanrahan in particular, Munster 'A' head coach Malone said: “JJ was playing against Leinster last week and he came down and gave his all. He had a try-saving tackle in the first half which was just part of the big game he had for us.
“They want him to get game-time playing at number 10 and this is the best thing for him at the moment. The fact that players like JJ and Mike Sherry come down and throw themselves into games like this shows the culture that exists at Munster.”
Ospreys skipper Jones commented: “We were very much in control in the first half, but our intensity dropped a bit in the second half and a few errors let them into the game. It is a step up from the (Welsh) Premiership, the speed is different and Munster were very well drilled and they certainly knew what they were doing. But I thought the younger boys certainly stepped up and matched them in the first half.”
Next up for Munster 'A' is a round 2 encounter with Nottingham at Irish Independent Park next Friday (kick-off 7.45pm). The English Championship side will have a familiar look to it with head coach Ian Costello in place and former Munster players Jordan Coghlan, Gearoid Lyons, Shane Buckley and Rory Burke all lining out for the Green & Whites.
Referee: Fergus Kirby (England)