Monday 30 January 2023 Dublin: 7°C
# high drama
5 talking points after Munster come through Pro12 semi-final thriller
Paulie’s goodbye, Keatley’s wobbles and more of the big issues from Thomond Park.

Murray Kinsella reports from Thomond Park

MUNSTER BEAT THE Ospreys 21-18 after an entertaining second half in Thomond Park today.

Read our full match report here.

Grandstand finish

A delight for the neutral and almost a nightmare for Munster coaches, players, backroom staff and supporters.

Josh Matavesi celebrates a disallowed try Ryan Byrne / INPHO The Ospreys thought they'd won when Matavesi crossed. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Anthony Foley admitted afterwards that he thought his side had lost when Josh Matavesi stepped inside the final defenders to cross at the death, his only doubt being as to why his players had pulled up a phase earlier to allow Marc Thomas to break through.

Nigel Owens had a good think about the bobbling ball initially when it left Webb’s hands at the base of that fateful ruck, but neither of his assistant referees had a firm decision for him and so play continued.

There were suggestions that Owens was not within his rights to go back and review the incident, but it had not occurred more than two phases before Matavesi crossed, meaning the Welshman was entitled to go back.

The fact that the ball did leave Webb’s hands and go forward meant it would have been cruel for Munster to lose in that manner.

Keatley’s wobbles

The Munster out-half rightly has many fans in the province and further afield, with his performances having been particularly strong over the first half of this season.

JJ Hanrahan comes on for Ian Keatley Ryan Byrne / INPHO Keatley was replaced by Hanrahan late on. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

An international debut during the Six Nations was well earned and Keatley certainly has an attacking ability that allows Munster to prosper when he’s at his best. That wasn’t the case this afternoon in Limerick though, as the former Connacht man had one of his most disappointing displays in some time.

His place kicking was almost costly as he missed three conversions and two penalties, while there was a lack of assurance in his kicking from hand too.

It will be a concern for Foley ahead of next weekend’s final against the Warriors, though Keatley will back himself to improve and recover his kicking composure as Munster look for silverware. An off day for the Dubliner.

Goodbye Paulie

The legendary lock said after the game that this was probably his final appearance for Munster at Thomond Park. It’s typical of the man that he waited until post-match to reveal that much; he’s simply not one for the fanfare and hype.

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Paul O'Connell after the game Ryan Byrne / INPHO O'Connell bid farewell to Thomond Park. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

His adoring teammates gave him a guard of honour as he exited the famous Limerick turf following Munster’s win, while CJ Stander was emotional speaking about O’Connell’s influence on him at the press conference soon after.

The plaudits and tributes will flow freely over the coming months when O’Connell finally confirms his decision, whether that involves retirement from playing or heading to France for one final adventure.

Either way, it looks like Thomond Park has witnessed the impact of O’Connell for the final time. His effect on the breakdown was enormous this afternoon, as always, while he tackled and carried with the vigour that has marked this out as one of the best seasons of his career.

CJ the colossus

The man of the match awards just keep on rolling in for Munster’s combative and devastatingly-effective number eight. This was the seventh time this season Stander has been honoured with that title.

CJ Stander presented with his man of the match award by Ken O'Dea James Crombie / INPHO This man can't stop winning man of the match awards. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

There were several other contenders today in Limerick, notably Stephen Archer and Dave Kilcoyne, but Stander was a popular choice yet again, despite his inadvertent assist for Rhys Webb’s second-half try.

Stander’s carrying power seems to grow week on week and he again rode off the best of the Ospreys’ tackling power in this clash. No matter how many defenders they employed, and no matter the technique, Stander invariably made big yardage.

Glasgow have carriers of their own who can do similar damage, Josh Strauss particularly, but Stander will be vital to the cause as Munster look for their first league title since 2011 next weekend.

Ospreys off key

The Ospreys provided a thrilling challenge in Limerick, but they will look back on their performance with an element of regret. Steve Tandy is in charge of a youthful squad and they will almost certainly be back for more in next season’s play-offs.

Dan Biggar attempts a drop goal James Crombie / INPHO Biggar wasn't at his very best as a hamstring injury held him back. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

One of the major weaknesses in their game today was kicking from hand, with the usually reliable fullback Dan Evans coming up with a pair of costly weak efforts and Webb also firing one box kick directly into touch to allow Munster to build a score.

That said, we could trace almost any try in rugby back to an opposition error, and Tandy’s men certainly contributed to an exciting encounter to round off a superb weekend of Pro12 semi-finals.

Here’s hoping that the decider in Belfast produces as much drama.

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