Munster are lifted by fresh face Barnes
Published 16/05/2011 | 09:40
Munster 18 - 11 Ospreys
This was more like it. Small steps maybe. Belatedly, after four semi-finals under Tony McGahan, a final beckons.
This season may still script a happy ending for Munster after all; more importantly, the team's journey there may prove just as beneficial in the months to come as the destination itself.
Some of the old guard, particularly in the front-row, paved the way for the revelation of further shoots of promising youth too, with the emergence of the two-try and very shy Danny Barnes, Lifeimi Mafi's sixth partner in the 12th different Munster midfield combination this term.
"He's a very strong guy, a very skilful player and he's very quick," said an admiring Paul O'Connell. "He's also got great physicality to his game which is great to see."
Barnes (21), born in Auckland but raised in Tralee since moving here as a 10-year-old, has grabbed this year's opportunity of a development contract with both hands after graduating from the Academy.
He made a couple of appearances last season, six more this term, and the sparkling brace - the first a clinical end to a sweeping move as he popped up on the right wing, followed by an intelligent chargedown and composed finish, which were his first ever senior touchdowns - hint at burgeoning promise.
"He can play everywhere," said O'Connell. "He has incredible honesty of effort in everything he does. He has great skills in training, great at producing stuff, so he can probably play anywhere."
Leinster will be a different prospect, notwithstanding the recent cessation of Munster's appalling losing run in the fixture. Some of Munster's first-half decision-making paled in comparison to the slick Leinster machine.
O'Connell said: "Sometimes you can get caught up in trying to play the perfect game when really you need to stick at it and wear a team down, similar to what Leinster did to Ulster - they kept the scoreboard ticking over."
Barnes' try helped Munster lead 8-3 at the break. Dan Biggar's second penalty meant Munster led only 11-6. But Barnes notched his second try a minute later after charging down a Richard Fussell clearance and Fussell's try came too late for the Ospreys.
"If Leinster do come down here as European champions," mused Marcus Horan, "it's a great way of gauging ourselves as to where we're at after the disappointment of falling out of the competition." Only then will they know how much road remains to be covered on the path to redemption.