Nail Biting

Foley's Munster survive madcap finish to squeeze into Pro12 final

The southern province move on to face Glasgow in the decider next weekend in Belfast.

Munster 21

Ospreys 18

Murray Kinsella reports from Thomond Park

MUNSTER CAME THROUGH a helter skelter and at times bizarre second half against the Ospreys for a 21-18 win that secures their place in the Guinness Pro12 final next weekend against Glasgow Warriors at Kingspan Stadium in Belfast.

Paul O'Connell and Dmitri Arhip Was this Paul O'Connell's last game in Thomond Park? Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

The Welsh region thought they’d stolen victory at the very death, but referee Nigel Owens ruled Josh Matavesi’s score out due to a knock-on by scrum-half Rhys Webb in the build-up.

The madcap closing minutes were fitting after a second period that had ebbed and flowed as Munster twice allowed the Welsh region to haul themselves back into the game with what Anthony Foley will likely view as soft tries.

Munster had dotted down either side of the half-time break to move into an apparent position of strength, but the scores through the lively Webb and Jeff Hassler kept the visitors firmly in touch.

Some poor place-kicking from Munster almost proved costly in the endgame, Ian Keatley missing the conversions for all three of Munster’s tries, as well as two penalties. Replacement out-half JJ Hanrahan was also wide with his only penalty shot.

However, the tries from Simon Zebo, Denis Hurley and openside flanker Paddy Butler were enough to get Munster through in the end, Keatley successful with two penalties to add to those five pointers.

Man of the match CJ Stander once again carried impressively to keep Foley’s side moving forward, while Paul O’Connell was busy at the breakdown on what might have been his final game for Munster in the famous Limerick venue.

The visitors had the better of the opening exchanges, enjoying a dominant share of possession in Munster’s half, a Biggar offload attempt to Scott Baldwin wide on the left missing the hooker and flying into touch to waste one opportunity.

A huge turnover from O’Connell on the Munster tryline then thwarted the Ospreys after elusive wing Eli Walker had beaten Felix Jones down the left.

Conor Murray injured Murray went off injured in the opening half. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Munster responded with a pair of devastating Dave Kilcoyne carries as they finally had a chance to attack, but the Ospreys next visit to the home side’s 22 brought three points from Biggar when the otherwise impressive Stephen Archer failed to roll away.

Keatley evened things up with a penalty of his own soon after, but Munster lost influential scrum-half Conor Murray to a worrying medial ligament knee injury in the preceding passage, Duncan Williams entering the fray in his place.

Munster’s pack earned their next score. Kilcoyne first forced Nicky Smith to deck at scrum time, then Ospreys tighthead Dmitri Arhip dropped the maul from the subsequent penalty. Keatley did the rest from the tee for a 6-3 lead with 23 minutes gone.

After a thrilling and ferocious opening quarter, the contest then seemed to dip as errors abounded, particularly from Tandy’s men. The kicking from hand was noticeable wayward from both sides, and Keatley also missed off the tee from 40 metres out as the half-time break approached.

It was a poor Ospreys kick that provided Munster with the platform for what seemed like a telling blow on the stroke of the break, however, with fullback Dan Evans slicing his attempted touch finder.

With the ball having rolled dead, Foley’s men were given a midfield scrum right in the centre of the park and struck to impressive effect.

Williams ran a dummy loop play around the back of Keatley to the right of the scrum, the out-half instead darting back inside where his offload out of Justin Tipuric’s tackle found number eight Stander on the charge.

Simon Zebo celebrates scoring his side's first try Zebo celebrates his first-half try. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Stander drew in Evans and passed to Butler on his left, the openside then finding the much quicker Simon Zebo to touch down. From out on the left, Keatley’s scrappy connection meant the conversion was missed but Munster led 11-3 at the interval.

Another kicking error directly from the restart led to the Ospreys conceding again inside the first two minutes of the second half. Webb fired the ball into touch after the Welshmen had carried back into their own 22, again providing Munster an easy access point.

O’Connell carried hard in midfield after the maul had initially been repelled, with Kilcoyne featuring too as Munster battered the Ospreys line. Stander’s big carry to the right of the posts was instrumental, before Keatley found Denis Hurley wide on the right and the centre beat Walker one-on-one to score in the corner.

Captain Peter O’Mahony exited for Munster swiftly after that score, but this game was far from decided.

With Munster playing off a scrum in their own 22, Stander appeared to misread the situation and picked from the base only to pop the ball directly into the hands of the waiting Webb, who sprinted clear to score an easy try.

Biggar missed the conversion and Munster found an immediate response of their own as the game’s tempo flooded back to life.

Stander initiated the counter attack from another weak Evans kick, before Keatley made further inroads into the Ospreys’ 22. Kilcoyne was again powerful in his carry to bring Munster within striking distance, from where the excellent Paddy Butler ran a brilliant line off Williams to barge through and touch down.

For the third time Keatley missed the conversion, though he struck the post on this occasion.

Denis Hurley beats Dan Evans and Josh Matavesi to score his side's second try Hurley stretches out to score after beating Walker. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Again, the Ospreys were not discouraged and another try against the run of play brought them to within six points. Zebo’s attempt to kick through on the left-hand side was gathered up by Canadian wing Jeff Hassler near halfway and he produced a scintillating run.

Hassler powered through the flailing tackle attempt of an exposed BJ Botha, on for Archer, then scythed past the despairing clutches of Williams. Zebo tracked back but couldn’t prevent Hassler from crossing for a brilliant try. This time, Biggar converted and the Ospreys were back to 21-15.

Tandy’s side had further scoring chances thereafter, as they blew a six-on-three overlap wide on the left and then Matavesi threw an insane offload effort after a big break took him close to the Munster line.

Their next score instead came from the tee, Biggar punishing Butler for going off his feet after a lengthy and concerning delay as a concussed Simon Zebo – injured in a hefty collision with Hassler as he gathered a kick – was treated on the pitch. A three-point game and the decibel levels in Thomond Park grew.

Munster had chances to all but confirm the win, but Keatley missed with a penalty in the 73rd minute and then his replacement Hanrahan was also wide with a 75th-minute effort from 38 metres out.

O’Connell’s third huge turnover penalty of the afternoon then put Munster into mauling range, but sub hooker won a brilliant steal for the Ospreys to allow them out of their 22 and into one last, desperate attack.

Webb’s knock-on was originally missed, allowing prop Marc Thomas to thunder through from 40 metres out and almost beat last man Felix Jones, before the Ospreys spread the ball wide for Matavesi to cross and touch down.

Owens, however, went back to TMO Gareth Simmonds and ruled it out to the utter relief of the vast majority of the 16,158 present at Thomond Park.

Munster scorers:

Tries: Simon Zebo, Denis Hurley, Paddy Butler

Conversions: Ian Keatley [0 from 3]

Penalties: Ian Keatley [2 from 4], JJ Hanrahan [0 from 1]

Ospreys scorers:

Tries: Rhys Webb, Jeff Hassler

Conversions: Dan Biggar [1 from 2]

Penalties: Dan Biggar [2 from 2]

MUNSTER: Felix Jones, Keith Earls, Andrew Smith, Denis Hurley, Simon Zebo (Ronan O’Mahony ’66); Ian Keatley (JJ Hanrahan ’74), Conor Murray (Duncan Williams ’18); Dave Kilcoyne (John Ryan ’72), Eusebio Guinazu (Duncan Casey ’72), Stephen Archer (BJ Botha ’51); Donnacha Ryan, Paul O’Connell; Peter O’Mahony (capt.) (Billy Holland ’44), Paddy Butler, CJ Stander.

Replacements Jack O’Donoghue.

OSPREYS: Dan Evans (Sam Davies ’68); Jeff Hassler, Ben John, Josh Matavesi, Eli Walker; Dan Biggar (Jonathan Spratt ’75), Rhys Webb; Nicky Smith (Marc Thomas ’74), Scott Baldwin (Sam Parry ’54), Dmitri Arhip (Aaron Jarvis ’57); Tyler Ardron (Rory Thornton ’66), Alun Wyn Jones (capt.); Dan Lydiate (James King ‘HT), Justin Tipuric, Dan Baker.

Replacements: Tom Habberfield.

Referee: Nigel Owens [WRU].

Attendance: 16,158.

LIVE: Munster v Ospreys, Guinness Pro12 semi-final

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