The end of an era. This match brought to mind the game against Toulouse where Mick Galwey pleaded with his team mates to keep it under 50. Munster managed to restrict the Ospreys to 45 but that will be of scant consolation over a long, barren summer.
The Ospreys looked a class apart on this display, abrasive in contact, direct in attack and technically proficient in many areas of play. The straight running of their backs, aiming at the inside shoulder before off loading to support runners complemented the body positions of their forwards. It wasn’t piano players and piano movers though. It took three Munster players to move Shane Williams from one ruck near the end as the little magician made himself awkward with the game in the bag while the Mole took particular pleasure from Ian Evans’ side-foot pass into space. Wengeresque.
The Welsh regions have spluttered in the Heineken Cup since inception. Cardiff are top seeded without ever having threatened to win a title while Llanelli occasionally looked to have the game to go all the way during the noughties before falling short in the knock-outs. The Ospreys’ galacticos undoubtedly had the talent to do better than they did. A change of emphasis has seen the fake tan and shiny boots put away for the time being and Wales’ finest looked very sharp on Friday night. However, the Mole thinks Munster made them look pretty good with an end of term display that lacked purpose and physicality. Ryan Jones, Justin Tipuric and Shane Williams were the only changes from last week when the Ospreys beat cellar dwellers Aironi 18-11. All three are quality players, with Tipuric in particular having a season to remember. However, that’s an ordinary result against Aironi.
The Ospreys wanted this one far more than Munster, who looked like a team that had been playing tip and football during training for the last two weeks, ever since Foley got passed over for the top job. Munster’s lineout was poor and the lack of quality first phase ball put them under pressure. There seems to have been an increased emphasis on offloading in Munster training sessions but too often the receiving man took the ball running slowly with no change of angle. The receiver looked uncertain about whether the man in possession would make the pass and it smacked of passing for passing’s sake. There was no change of angle from the support runner and no unity of purpose. The same criticism could be levelled against Munster on a wider frame. Far too few men competed to secure ruck ball and it seemed as though Munster’s pack were under instruction to maintain their width across the field as support runners rather than secure the ball. Either that or they didn’t know what their backline were trying to do.
Keith Earls looked sharp in the middle of the pitch and his displays at second centre this season have been revelatory for the Mole. Not only can he pass, he can time a pass. He runs straight when he has the ball and angles when he is receiving. Peter O’Mahony snorted around the park in typical fashion but Jones x 2, Tipuric, Evans and Bearman had more physicality and O’Mahony seems wholly unable (or unwilling) to tackle on his left shoulder. Tommy O’Donnell had the ball stripped from his grasp more than once and Donncha O’Callaghan does not offer the dynamic power required on the hard grounds. Paddy Butler and Dave O’Callaghan both showed vigour and pace in their cameo roles but Munster’s season was well over at that stage.
Munster missed O’Connell’s leadership. Without a dominant line out and the assurance of retaining broken phase possession, O’Gara’s ability to kick the corners reduced in significance to the point where he became an inconsequential figure on the evening. Rob Penney comes in at an opportune time for Munster. Leinster’s ascendancy and Ulster’s progress have contrasted with Munster’s decline as a team grew old together and then retired. The new coach will have the opportunity to put a style of game in place that suits the players he has rather than the ones they used to have.
The Ospreys are Leinster’s bogey team, having completed the double over the Heineken champions during the regular season as well as winning the Grand Final in the RDS two years ago. They will travel for the final fearing neither Glasgow or Leinster and look capable of more in the seasons to come.