Ospreys back in the pack
Biggar boots 14 points but Munster still gain losing bonus point
By Rob Lancaster. Last Updated: 18/12/10 6:02pm
Biggar: kicked 14 points for hosts
The Ospreys put themselves right back in the mix in the battle for top spot in Pool Three with a hard-fought 19-15 triumph over Munster.
A first-half try from Mike Phillips and 14 points from Dan Biggar's boot helped the hosts come out on top in a see-saw tussle at the Liberty Stadium.
Having lost the reverse fixture last weekend in Ireland, the Ospreys simply couldn't afford to suffer a first home loss in Europe since December 2005.
However they may look back with regret on their failure to deny Munster a losing bonus, meaning they now trail their Magners League rivals by a point in a congested table that is currently topped by Toulon.
Despite having star quality in their backs, including the return of the fit-again Nikki Walker, it was the Ospreys' pack that was the cornerstone of success. The front-row trio of Paul James, Richard Hibbard and Adam Jones were particularly impressive, as the Welsh team showed they were no pushovers.
It was Munster who drew first blood with a penalty from Ronan O'Gara and they threatened again soon after when opting for a five-metre scrum.
But, knowing their try-line was in serious danger, the Ospreys produced a massive push to earn a penalty. It wouldn't be the last time during the afternoon that they would be forced to stand firm next to their own posts.
Biggar levelled matters after 17 minutes and although O'Gara fluffed a chance to immediately grab back the advantage when he missed a long-range penalty, it wasn't long before Munster were ahead again.
A burst from Sam Tuitupou saw the centre somehow escape the clutches of two tacklers and his offload was superbly picked off his own boot laces by the supporting Denis Leamy. Although the flanker couldn't make it to the line himself, Tony Buckley was on hand to force his way over in the next phase.
The try, which saw the prop receive a little help from his friends to get over, left O'Gara with an easy conversion from right in front to make it 10-3 to the visitors.
The response from the Ospreys was emphatic. Having barely threatened as an attacking force they suddenly decided to air things out.
The decision to go wide paid off as Mike Phillips eventually planted the ball over the line from close range; the scrum-half needing a second effort to stretch out and score on the right.
Biggar slotted over the conversion to level the scores again before nudging the Ospreys into a half-time lead with a 36th-minute penalty.
Just as they had done in the opening exchanges, Munster threatened to score at the start of the second half through their big men up front.
Yet, once again, the Ospreys survived on their own line, this time thanks in part to the inability of their opponents to take off their blinkers and realise that the space was out wide, rather than going for countless pick-and-drives.
Perhaps frustrated by his side's failure to score, Leamy carelessly gave away a penalty that allowed Biggar to open up a six-point gap.
Munster, though, hit from deep to get right back into the contest with a second try. Set free on the right, winger Doug Howlett cleverly kicked over the top before slighly taking out Richard Fussell in the aerial battle for the ball. The contact allowed Keith Earls to collect instead, though his finish in the corner left O'Gara with too much to do with his kick for the posts.
With their cup hopes now hanging by a thread, Ospreys once again relied on their forwards to seize back the initiative and preserve their amazing home record.
A Biggar penalty pushed them four points clear heading into the final 10 minutes before they again made an impact at scrum time, another massive drive resulting in a crucial turnover inside their own half.
In the end they could have even denied Munster a losing bonus, Lifeimi Mafi's sin-binning in the final minute surely giving them a chance to call for a five-metre scrum and the chance to push hard for a penalty try.
Instead they opted to tap-and-go not once, not twice but three times, and on each occasion failed to get over. Their inability to do so may prove costly in the final reckoning, but shouldn't take the shine off an impressive victory.