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'Peter is in some of the best fitness form of his life'

There was no sign of early-season rust as Peter O’Mahony hit the ground running against Ospreys on Friday.

SHORTLY AFTER HE had orchestrated the penalty try which set Munster on their way to an emphatic Guinness Pro14 victory on Friday night, Peter O’Mahony produced a moment of pure athleticism, tenacity and power which truly heralded his comeback. 

As Ospreys looked for an instant riposte, Cory Allen tested Munster’s defence out wide with an arching run but just as it appeared the centre had straightened enough to cruise through a gap, O’Mahony made good ground to his right to wrap the Welsh international up.

Munster's Peter O'Mahony O'Mahony made an impressive return to action on Friday. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

Once he effected the initial tackle, O’Mahony was straight back on his feet, releasing Allen on the floor to counter-ruck ferociously and clear the supporting Luke Morgan out, allowing Mike Haley to secure the turnover inside the Munster 22.

It not only shut the door on the Ospreys but had the Musgrave Park crowd on their feet, the sight of Munster’s captain doing what he does best generating the biggest roar of the night until Joey Carbery danced through at the other end.

In his first appearance since June’s final Test against Australia, O’Mahony showed no sign of early-season rust as Munster’s dynamic and powerful back row of the Ireland international, the fit-again Chris Cloete and new arrival Arno Botha dominated on both sides of the ball.

Munster’s supremacy up-front, and indeed at the set-piece, allowed Duncan Williams feed Carbery with quick ball as the hosts’ exciting backline — led by the 22-year-old out-half — causing havoc on the newly-laid 3G surface.

In running in seven tries on a hugely encouraging night, Munster showed exciting glimpses of their considerable firepower, no more than in the engine room with O’Mahony — in the shape of his life — leading from the front.

“He’s a fantastic captain,” Johann van Graan said. “The way he managed the referee and how we adapted to the referee. He was itching to play the last two weeks and with those internationals returning, we just had to keep them back because they were keen to go.

“He just really wanted to hit the ground running on Friday night and he’s such an important player for us. That’s why we took quite a few guys off [in the second half] Peter is in some of the best fitness form of his life, the way he ran in the fitness test and he’s working hard in the gym.

“The way he has led in the last few weeks even when he wasn’t playing was impressive.”

With O’Mahony, Cloete, Botha and Tadhg Beirne winning the battle in the trenches, Munster were able to maintain a level of control on proceedings throughout the 80 minutes, unlike during their disappointing defeat to Glasgow Warriors a week previous.

The 18th-minute penalty try set the southern province on their way before Carbery, James Cronin and Rhys Marshall all crossed before the break to seal the bonus point and effectively settle the contest.

Munster's Chris Cloete MOTM Chris Cloete made a big impact on his return. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

While his side were able to turn on the style by scoring three further scores after the break, van Graan was most pleased by his side’s defence and work on the ground as they blew a poor Ospreys side away.

“It’s something [poaching] that we’ve been working on and credit to our wide backs, I thought our pressure in the wide channels on D was pretty good.

“Guy like Sweets [Sweetnam], Sammy [Arnold] and Andrew [Conway] were good on the edge and that slows the ball down for a few more seconds and I thought we came off the line really well and got them behind the gain line and then your poachers come into the game.

“Again I impressed by the decision-making, I know we got penalised once or twice, but we won a lot more than we conceded.”

Certainly it was a night when the returning internationals — O’Mahony and Conway included — provided the province with a major fillip, but also the new stars who have hit the ground running in red at the start of the campaign were at the fore. 

Carbery produced the sort of controlling performance in the 10 jersey his talent has always promised, marking his first Munster start with a maiden try, while Beirne and Botha were outstanding and Haley continues to make plenty of positive contributions.

Overall, there was plenty to like about Munster’s night’s work in Cork.

“Tadhg has got some free reign to play his game,” van Graan continued. “He’s the one forward we give licence to try things because he’s just that type of player. I thought some of the stuff that he did, not just defensively but in attack, was special.

“Arno has been enormous over the first three weeks and he hasn’t played in a long time, I think it’s his third 80 in a row now, and he looked pretty tidy.

“Obviously Joey has imposed himself pretty quickly. I think he’s had three pretty good performances and again that step off his right foot and kick off his left, the try and the fact that he read it was pretty impressive.

“Mike is strong from a positional point of view, and we’re very happy with the way he communicates. I think he needs one magic moment to open up the D but hopefully it’ll come at a time when we really need it.”

The challenge now, however, is to convert a second strong home showing of the campaign into an 80-minute performance on the road, after last week’s first-half no-show in Glasgow caused huge frustration. 

Johann van Graan signs autographs for fans before the game Van Graan was pleased to collect five points. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Munster will reset and start again at their University of Limerick base this morning in the knowledge a trip to Cardiff to face a wounded Blues outfit who are coming off the back of three straight defeats promises to be a different proposition entirely. 

Van Graan wants to see his side improve on their execution, despite racking up seven tries on Friday night.

“From a greedy point of view, I wanted to score a few more tries but very happy with the chances we created. I thought in the first 15 minutes, some of the lines that we ran when the game was still very structured, and we got a few nice offloads away.

“I thought we kept the ball pretty well and cut their line at will at stages. Next step now is to convert all those opportunities. Every week we look for the perfect game. We’ll review it and start again on zero on Monday.”

On the injury front, there is concern over the ankle and knee problems John Ryan sustained during the second half on Friday night, but the full extent of the damage won’t be known until later today.

“When I got in [to the changing room], he had ice on his ankle and knee which is never a great sign,” van Graan added. “We just have to wait for Monday and hopefully it’s not serious.”

Stephen Archer also went off against the Ospreys, meaning Munster finished with 14 men and the game ended with uncontested scrums, with the tighthead now expected to follow the return to play protocols after a head knock.

Billy Holland won’t be available again this week, while Neil Cronin is facing four to six weeks on the sidelines with the shoulder injury he suffered against Glasgow in round two.

Munster are due to issue a squad update later on Monday ahead of Friday’s trip to the Cardiff Arms Park. 

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Ryan Bailey

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