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Scintillating Zebo try helps Munster into Pro12 final against Scarlets

Rassie Erasmus’ men scored three tries in their semi-final victory at Thomond Park.

Munster 23

Ospreys 3

Murray Kinsella reports from Thomond Park

IT WAS ALMOST fitting that Munster’s game-sealing try was of the variety we haven’t really seen from them under Rassie Erasmus.

Broken play, an unstructured situation, free-flowing offloading and brilliant support play off the ball. Erasmus has backed his players to take risks, but this was a demonstration of the fact there there is much more to Munster than just mauls and scrums.

Simon Zebo celebrates scoring a try with Tyler Bleyendaal Zebo scored a brilliant try in the second half. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

It helped that their pack was on top in both of those areas, but the second-half score conjured by Keith Earls, Francis Saili, Conor Murray, Andrew Conway and gleeful finisher Simon Zebo was in the try-of-the-season category.

They countered out of their own half, targeting space and offloading at pace for a sensational try that finally broke the determined Ospreys and helped Munster into next weekend’s Guinness Pro12 final against the Scarlets.

Losing Rhys Webb to a groin injury before kick-off didn’t help Steve Tandy’s side, particularly with replacement Brendon Leonard struggling, but Munster were clearly the better team across the 80 minutes.

They soaked up huge pressure from the Ospreys in the first half and limited them to their only three points of the contest, before dominating much of the second 40 minutes to secure their place in the final for the first time since 2014/15.

The Scarlets were very impressive in last night’s semi-final win over Leinster at the RDS and are certain to be a serious proposition, but Munster now have their first title since 2011 in sight.

Saili was man of the match on his final game at Thomond Park, while Zebo shone at fullback, but forwards like the dynamic Dave Kilcoyne and Tommy O’Donnell stood out for Munster too. Donnacha Ryan, on his final Thomond Park outing, was fiery alongside captain Peter O’Mahony.

It was a scrappy performance at times, but Munster were composed and willing to bide their time to finally crack the Ospreys.

Dan Biggar had the Welsh side in front with a penalty inside the opening 10 minutes after referee Luke Pearce pinged Munster for offside, but it was the home side’s defence that dominated the remainder of the opening half.

Francis Saili scores a try Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

The Welsh region had more than 60% possession and territory, including a handful of 22 visits, but with the brilliant Kilcoyne leading the linespeed Munster were well able to manage their curiously narrow tactics.

A clever inside pass from Murray to Earls close to a ruck, with Kilcoyne and CJ Stander then making punishing carries, finally gave Munster the front foot.

Munster shifted the ball wide left in the Ospreys 22 and though it looked like Rory Scannell would be tackled into touch, he cleverly reacted to flick the ball to ground and Saili scooped to finish powerfully through Rhodri Jones and Ashley Beck.

Tyler Bleyendaal’s conversion hit the post, with Biggar missing a penalty soon after.

Munster’s scrum came to the fore as the break approached and a final attacking thrust from Erasmus’ men saw the Ospreys go off their feet for a penalty that Bleyendaal popped over for an 8-3 half-time lead.

Nicky Smith broke early in the second half to serve warning that the Ospreys were still in the game, but he forced an offload once he had passed John Ryan.

Munster then piled on pressure in the Ospreys’ 22 and it looked like being a decisive passage in the game if the Irish province could find a way over the tryline.

Ospreys fullback Dan Evans tackled Earls into touch in the right corner first, though, before poor passing from Murray and Bleyendaal cost Munster on their next passage of attack. Tackling like demons, the Ospreys survived.

Rory Scannell with Alun Wyn Jones and Bradley Davies Rory Scannell carries for Munster. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

But only for minutes. Heading into the final quarter, it looked briefly like Munster had their second try, but the TMO review couldn’t find a grounding and they were denied.

Bleyendaal had blocked Leonard’s grubber kick, with Murray gathering the rebounding ball and tearing into the Ospreys’ 22, passing to Bleyendaal. The out-half found Earls and after the ball was recycled Stander surged beyond the tryline.

With that possible score rejected, Munster instead manufactured their try of pure magic.

Earls initiated it with an offload inside his own half to Saili, who found Murray, whose quick hands freed Earls up the left touchline. He passed inside to Conway, who in turn found Zebo inside, the fullback reeling the ball in with his fingertips to finish.

His passionate celebration delighted the Thomond Park faithful, and Bleyendaal hammered over the conversion for a 15-3 lead.

With Jean Deysel making an impact off the bench and captain O’Mahony’s influence growing all the time – he delighted in annoying Alun Wyn Jones – Munster were well on top, with Bleyendaal adding another penalty from 40 metres out in the 67th minute.

Simon Zebo celebrates scoring a try Munster celebrate Zebo's stunning try. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Ospreys replacement hooker Scott Otten almost had a sensational try in the closing 10 minutes to make a game of it, chipping over the defence and winning the race to the ball, but another TMO review showed that sub scrum-half Jay Baker had knocked on moments before Otten’s effort.

That was the end of the visitors’ challenge and Conway showed superb footwork to finish Munster’s third try from a five-metre scrum, beating three men in limited space, but injuring himself in the process.

Keelan Giles was denied a try at the death as Munster saw the game out with their work rate still through the roof.

Munster scorers:Tries: Francis Saili, Simon Zebo, Andrew ConwayConversions: Tyler Bleyendaal [1 from 3]

Penalties: Tyler Bleyendaal [2 from 2]

Ospreys scorers:

Penalties: Dan Biggar [1 from 2]

MUNSTER: Simon Zebo; Andrew Conway (Brian Scott ’77), Francis Saili, Rory Scannell (Jaco Taute ’55), Keith Earls (Ian Keatley ’71); Tyler Bleyendaal, Conor Murray (Duncan Williams ’74); Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell (Rhys Marshall ’67), John Ryan (Stephen Archer ’55); Donnacha Ryan, Billy Holland (Jack O’Donoghue ’71); Peter O’Mahony (captain), Tommy O’Donnell (Jean Deysel ’63), CJ Stander.

OSPREYS: Dan Evans; Keelan Giles, Kieran Fonotia, Ashley Beck (Josh Matavesi ’72), Tom Habberfield; Dan Biggar (Sam Davies ’67), Brendon Leonard (Jay Baker ’66); Nicky Smith (Paul James ’69), Scott Baldwin (Scott Otten ’53), Rhodri Jones (Dan Suter ’63); Bradley Davies (Lloyd Ashley ’69), Alun Wyn Jones (captain); Sam Underhill, Justin Tipuric, James King (Olly Cracknell ’37).

Referee: Luke Pearce [RFU].

Attendance: 18,332.

- This article was updated at 8.35pm to correct ‘half-time’ to ‘kick-off’ in the fifth paragraph.

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