Munster 14 Ospreys 19: The verdict
Munster 14 Ospreys 19: Gareth Llewellyn-Stevens reflects on the Welsh side's victory in Limerick
Ospreys maintained their 100 per cent winning start to the Guinness PRO12 with an impressive 19-14 win over Munster at Thomond Park on Saturday night, to return to the top of the table on points difference.
Are Ospreys the real deal?
It would seem so. Written off by so many pundits before the season had started, their start has surprised many, but you’ll not see them getting too carried away after just four rounds of the season.
Munster away was by far their biggest test of the opening four rounds and they were impressive as they came from behind three times and held on at the end to remain unbeaten with head coach Steve Tandy back in south Wales awaiting the birth of his third child.
They may have lost a quartet of experienced Wales internationals in the summer, but so far they haven’t looked like missing them. Their biggest problems will be keeping key players like Alun Wyn Jones, Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb and Justin Tipuric fit and adapting to their loss to Wales in November and through much of February and March.
That said, their new crop of youngsters continue to get plenty of experiences – as they did last season – and, as a team, they is still plenty to improve on.
Was Webb really man of the match again?
Blame Sky Sports commentator Stuart Barnes if you disagree.
Webb has had an incredible start to the season after returning from another serious injury, but there is a good argument that his half-back mate Biggar would have been more deserving for the way he controlled the game and kept the scoreboard ticking over.
But if Biggar is the epitome of cool, calm and controlled, Webb is the livewire that can make something happen from nothing, whether with ball in hand or spotting channels to kick into. It’s an excellent combination that only seems to get better and was certainly a driving force in Limerick.
He may have played just 26 minutes before succumbing to injury, but there could have been an argument for Tipuric to pick up the award for his work in attack and defence during the opening quarter, while Josh Matavesi appears to have been a shrewd addition to the midfield.
Of course, man of the match awards are a good way of getting the man you want to front up for a TV interview, but Webb has never been the type of person to bathe in personal glory. For the Ospreys, team victories are what they want and, ultimately, more silverware.
hat did the Ospreys coaches think of their win?
With Tandy back in Wales, backs coach Gruff Rees was running the show with the big man chiming with texts during the game.
There was notable praise for their defensive effort, going as far as to call it a “small breakthrough”, but there will be no getting carried away, even if there is a U-turn from the media in what the Ospreys can achieve this season.
Also a lot of talk about getting back to the Ospreys from their Celtic League glory days, playing for the jersey and not dropping off for 80 minutes, especially with so many young players getting more game time.
For all the praise, the players and coaches know that they are capable of much more. It was a note that rang out despite the nine-try demolition of Edinburgh a week ago. It wasn’t a perfect performance. The same was true at Munster and they’ll get back to work next week.
Thomond Park used to be a fortress.
What has happened to Munster?
Part of it is the lack of a fear factor and a loss of confidence. Teams don’t fear going to Thomond Park as much as they may have done in the past. For Edinburgh to win the way they did, without playing too well, says more about the decline of Munster than other teams improving.
The Ospreys were always going to be a bigger test, and they’ll be delighted to with the way they were able to survive 10 minutes down to 14 men and losing Justin Tipuric in the first half.
Few teams will get an easy ride in Limerick with veterans like Paul O’Connell around, but more will believe they can get a result if their defence is solid and they take their chances when they get them.
There is an argument that the Munstermen are in transition with a new coach in Anthony Foley, who doesn’t know his best team, but they don’t appear to be moving forward. Other teams are and there could be more unexpected wins in Limerick and Cork this season.
What do Munster need to do to turn their season around?
One of their biggest problems is the 10-12-13 channel. Why they let James Downey go to the Warriors remains a mystery. They just don’t have enough creativity or depth in the midfield to really cause too many headaches against the best teams around.
It’s clear to see why Ian Keatley has slipped down the Ireland ranks at outside-half. He just doesn’t seem to produce the goods when it matters and his goal-kicking was again wayward, despite landing three penalties. With Biggar as his opposite number, it was clear to see the gulf in class. Biggar is every part the international 10. Keatley leaves a lot to be desired, while JJ Hanrahan can still be hit or miss.
Injuries, of course, haven’t helped with former Crusaders and Canterbury outside-half/centre Tyler Bleyendaal sidelined, while Ireland international centre Keith Earls is out, forcing full-back/winger Denis Hurley to learn “on the job” in the midfield alongside former Brumbies centre Andrew Smith, who is still growing into northern hemisphere rugby.
Munster’s forwards still pack a punch, but without a fully-firing backline they’ll struggle unless they can find a couple of experienced, natural centres and get consistency in the backs. Missing out on the PRO12 top four is a very real reality for them this season.