Poor Ronan O’Gara. One minute he’s slipping down the Irish out-half rankings, the next he is proving he is mortal when it comes to goalkicking. The man who holds more points records than you can shake a stick at suddenly lost his touch and fatally missed the target four times off the floor and once with a drop-goal attempt as Munster fell to their fourth away defeat in the Magners League.
In fact, there haven’t been many good road trips for the champions this season – they also lost at Northampton in the first round of the Heineken Cup – and they fell dramatically from grace in the third quarter as the Ospreys turned up the heat in the second half.
There was at least a strong rally in a hectic final few minutes, after O’Gara had recovered his poise with a touchline conversion of Nick Williams’ try from a driving line-out, but it never looked like being enough to complete what would have been a smash-and-grab raid.
Tony McGahan was forced to make a late change to his proposed line-up when he pulled Paul O’Connell out of the firing line. As a precautionary move ahead of the Heineken Cup clashes coming up against Perpignan it made perfect sense and Donnacha Ryan made an able deputy.
Unlike Michael Cheika, McGahan chose to throw many of his Irish heroes back into domestic action. It seemed a sensible approach.
And with Perpignan coming to Thomond Park next weekend, the trip to the Liberty Stadium was as much a getting-to-know-you again exercise as anything else. What McGahan found was there was no lack of familiarity among his players, but there was a lack of cohesion.
Not that the appalling conditions wouldn’t have contributed to the endless fingers and thumbs from both sides. The near amphibious south Walians may not have noticed a few more inches of rain after the dousing they have received in the past fortnight, but it certainly had an impact.
If O’Gara had been hoping for a chance to shine as he re-launched his bid to regain his Test status then three missed penalties, two of which he would have expected to kick in his sleep, didn’t help in the first-half. What did help the visitor’s cause was the incredibly high error count from the Ospreys. It certainly hasn’t been the greatest of seasons for them, and they are missing a handful of players, but you wouldn’t have expected to see Alun-Wyn Jones’ drop two easy balls.
But despite the overgenerous approach of their hosts, and some sympathetic refereeing, Munster simply couldn’t turn their dominance into any sort of meaningful lead.
A bizarre penalty try opened the scoring after 13 minutes – the third successive scrum at which Neil Paterson had penalized the home pack. The home fans were furious as he opted to race to the posts after the Munster wheel five metres out had seemed anything but in control. O’Gara managed to hit the mark, but by half-time two Biggar penalties had cut the gap to a single point and it was anyone’s. Within two minutes of the restart it soon became obvious whose.
The Ospreys were a transformed side. The foreign influence really came to the fore as they finally gained, and controlled, some possession.
The all-Kiwi back row of Jerry Collins, Marty Holah and Filo Tiatia gave the Munster fledglings James Couglin and Niall Ronan a tough night’s work, but it was their Irish gem that did the trick.
Tommy Bowe has developed into one of the most feared wings in the world and he showed exactly why as he bounced off Liefemi Mafi and then crashed over Doug Howlett to round off the best move of the night.
It was the start of a calamitous 25 minutes for Munster. Biggar converted off the touchline, dropped a goal and added a penalty, while Munster lost Denis Fogarty and James Coughlan to the sin-bin. It was just as well Paul James lost the ball going over the try line otherwise it might have turned into a rout. As it was, McGahan threw on the cavalry and Williams’ try and O’Gara’s conversion rescued a bonus point.
Ospreys G Owen; T Bowe, S Parker, A Bishop, N Walker; D Biggar, L Davies; D Jones, R Hibbard, C Mitchell, AW Jones, J Thomas, J Collins (capt), M Holah, F Tiatia Subs H Bennett for Hibbard 68mins, P James for D Jones 41mins, C Griffiths for Mitchell 72mins, A Lloyd for AW Jones 76mins, B Lewis for Tiatia 78mins.
Scorers T Bowe try; D Biggar con, 3 pens, drp gl
Munster P Warwick; D Howlett, J de Villiers, L Mafi, K Earls; R O'Gara (capt), T O'Leary; W du Preez, D Fogarty, J Hayes, D O'Callaghan, D Ryan, A Quinlan, N Ronan, J Coughlan Subs D Varley for Coughlan 45-58mins, for Fogarty 68mins, T Buckley for Buckley 62mins, M O’Driscoll for Ryan 55mins, N Williams for Coughlin 76mins, P Stringer for O’Leary 71mins, D Hurley for de Villiers 76mins, I Dowling for Howlett 62mins Scorers Penalty try, N Williams try; R O’Gara 2 cons
Referee N Patterson (Scotland)