This time of year gives me the creeps when it comes to the Pro 12 tournament. November internationals; sides are depleted, squad depth of certain teams is highlighted, squad depth in other teams are exposed. These three statements were particularly true on Friday night when Munster continued to their recent good form with an emphatic win over an Ospreys side who were missing twelve first team players.
A sold out Irish Independent Park (Musgrave Park to the old school masses) continued the renewed support of the province since the tragic death of Axel Foley. The energy of the home support has inspired the Munster team in recent weeks and there was plenty to be positive about from a Munster perspective for Rassie Erasmus. Dave Kilcoyne produced a barnstorming display; full of intensity and work rate in the loose. His ball carrying ability and game line yards set the platform for Munster to launch attack after attack. A power packed performance which has earned the UL Bohemians clubman a thoroughly deserved international call-up.
Munster were rarely troubled by an Ospreys side who were quite passive in the opening exchanges. This was in comparison to the hosts whose line speed, work rate and organization in the fringes were on point throughout. The ability of Munster players to support their colleague was a pleasure to watch. This set the tone for the first try of the contest where concerted Munster pressure led to a maul from close range which rumbled over the whitewash.
Darren Sweetnam and Ronan O’Mahoney made big statements to the coaching staff tonight. Sweetnam looks like a real find; the Cork native seems to have so much time on the ball and his ability to beat the first tackle shows the ingenuity and creativity of the player. Sweetnam’s kicking game from hand is a work in progress (one ball went out in the full) but his deft chip behind Ospreys rearguard at the death of this contest oozed class. His close range try was clinically executed. A player which the province must retain and secure; exciting times ahead.
O’Mahoney has had an encouraging Munster career to date but his cameo on Friday night suggests a different side to his play. His two tries came from absolutely nothing, the latter when he latched onto an Osprey’s mistake to score. His work rate and ability to win the game line battle was evident throughout . Two promising youngsters on the wings; the academy is producing genuine talent which can make it to the top again.
Peter O’Mahoney was on a different planet; his ability to read Ospreys’ lineout calls got ridiculous at times. Darren O’Shea certainly assisted in this department but O’Mahoney is like a brand new player for the province. His actions inspire his colleagues to follow suit; the way he got up from a nasty looking fall from a lineout in the second half was nothing short of remarkable. O’Mahoney bounced straight back up and Mitrea was startled that the Ireland international got up so quickly. O’Mahoney’s work rate offensively and defensively was on point.
Tyler Bleyendaal continues to impress; yet again the pack were in dominant form but the New Zealand player continued to game manage with efficiency. His kicking both from the tee and out of hand was on point and Ospreys were struggling to make defensive reads on Munster such was the accuracy and precision of Bleyendaal on the night. A position which Munster have struggled in the last eighteen months, it is now imperative that Munster keep their NZ player fit and healthy in order to retain the momentum of the side.
Ospreys will rue the fact that so many players were unable due to injuries and international duty but the defensive line setup was at times inconsistent, something not exposed in Challenge Cup fare but when in Pro 12 action can be magnified three fold. When the Welsh region had chances to put pressure on, their set piece let them down. The scrum was second best and the lineout misfired at key times in key territorial areas. Better days lie ahead for the Ospreys but the side looks jaded and the break has come at the right time. Steve Tandy needs to assess and try to get players back in the squad to shore up gaping holes in the front five and back line.
The most exciting part of the night for me personally was the introduction of Munster’s scrum half Griesel who even in the eight minute cameo showed all the attributes required to suggest that the province have a scrum half who adds a different dimension to Munster’s play. His quick ruck ball, his physicality to tackle in the fringes was promising. The SA U20 capped player will keep the likes of Duncan Williams (who was good) on his toes particularly during international rugby sabbaticals of the season. Munster’s squad continues to evolve for the better.
Erasmus will be happy that Munster kept the door shut at the death; the line speed in defense did not abate. Munster will have tougher tests starting with the sold out fixture against the Maori’s in Thomond Park this week. Maori’s will be unashamedly aggressive with ball in hand and will try to create from anywhere. An useful exercise for the side ahead of European Cup action next month. Interesting times ahead and Munster head into the Pro 12 break in a quite healthy position second in the table. The fans have come back to support the province; progression is the keyword at the moment and Munster are delivering this requirement.