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Reds almost made monstrous mistake

Big moment: Munster celebrate James Cronin’s crucial bonus point try last week at Ospreys
Big moment: Munster celebrate James Cronin’s crucial bonus point try last week at Ospreys

By Neil Francis

Maybe this is a moot point, but I still think it is worthy of debate. Last Saturday, Munster played their Pool 4 opener against Ospreys at the Liberty Stadium in Swansea.

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Despite Wales getting to the World Cup semi-finals again, Ospreys are the only Welsh club in the Champions Cup - we have our best people trying to figure that out.

Ospreys are second last in Conference A of the Guinness PRO14 and have a 1-6 record having managed to lose 14-6 at home to the Southern Kings - which takes some doing.

So as Munster boarded their plane for Wales, everyone must have been expecting a victory over an understrength side. Not only that - even though nobody would dare admit it - a bonus point would be a cherry on top, if they did manage to earn a victory.

A vital cherry on top in such a tough pool. If you cast your mind back to last season's campaign, Munster, on 21 points, got to play Edinburgh in Scotland where they eked out a 17-13 quarter-final win, but got duffed by Saracens in the semi-final at the Ricoh Arena.

Home advantage is everything. Luck decides the semi draw but there can be some very dangerous sides lurking in the quarter-finals. Munster would fear none of them in Thomond Park. Therefore every point, or bonus point, is worth fighting for - to the death.

It's true that Munster did garner the bonus point with the final play of the game. The maul over the line in the fifth minute of added time will add to the Munster legend, particularly if this campaign bears fruit. The fourth try, however, was a product of luck and also some peculiar decisions by the Ospreys and referee Karl Dickson.

Given the pain endured by Munster in not being able to progress past the semi-finals in recent years, surely a more scientific or strategic approach to getting what they want would have been more appropriate. When Munster scored their third try in the 51st minute, the bookies in Vegas would have given you nothing on a fourth with half an hour remaining.

Two points to observe here. If Jeremy Loughman's pass had been a wobbly, loopy pass, the counter-attack would have - as it so often does - withered on the vine because the cover would have had an extra second to recover. A perfect pass off the left hand and out in front of Mike Haley made the full-back attack the ball instead of checking for a prop's pass. That was the difference between the try and a tackle into touch.

The second point - is it Jacob Stockdale, Jordan Larmour or Keith Earls who gets dropped by Andy Farrell for Andrew Conway?

Munster were 25-6 ahead - the game won and 30 minutes to get a bonus point. The Ospreys bench did help matters and Munster only got into opposition territory twice.

In the 73rd minute, Munster had a throw-in on their own 22. They still had seven minutes to get a bonus point but Ospreys got a turnover and then went deep into Munster territory. The Welshmen put in 10 phases of lung-busting intensity and Munster, as they always do, defended their line with their lives. What courage! What stupidity!

Ospreys' runners were held up millimetres from the line and eventually a scrum was awarded. The clock is ticking and guess what - the scrum collapses.

One minute and 40 seconds pass just to get the ball back in play from a scrum. Crouch, bind, set, collapse! Eventually the ball comes out but a penalty is awarded, Aled Davies tips to himself and scores. There is now less than two minutes left. What should Munster have done?

Can I point y'all to Superbowl 46 between the New England Patriots and the New York Giants in 2012.

The heavily-fancied Patriots found themselves in a precarious 17-15 lead with just over a minute to go and only one time-out left. New York had possession of the ball on the Patriots' six-yard line and were first and goal, meaning they would have four attempts to score a touchdown, or three attempts and then a chip-shot to win the Superbowl 18-17. New York would not attempt to throw the ball, but they'd run it to keep it safe.

What happened next was truly incredible. Bill Belichick, the Patriots head coach, ordered his team to let New York score.

As the New England defensive line opened up and left a giant hole, Ahmad Bradshaw sailed through before realising too late that he had purposely been allowed to score. He tried to pull up, but his momentum carried him over the line. Even though it was the winning score, nobody in a Giants jersey celebrated! What the hell was going on? Belichick knew he could not get the ball back from New York and that they would run the clock down to about three seconds and take an easy field goal - if they hadn't already scored a touchdown. The trick for New York was to deny Tom Brady, the Patriots superstar quarterback, any time left to get a touchdown.

Even though it goes against everything a sportsman stands for - simply letting your opponent score untouched - it was a moment of counter-intuitive genius.

Bradshaw scored and New England had one minute left and one time-out from the 20-yard line. If anyone could do it - Brady could. The Patriots ultimately failed as Rob Gronkowski missed a catch in the end zone by inches.

Clock management is a key component in rugby where four sets and three 'innocent' collapses of a scrum on your own line can cost you five minutes when you really need to be scoring tries.

At 73 minutes and the game safe at 25-6, maybe the call for Munster was to let Ospreys score - possibly even shepherd them over to the corner. From the kick off, put it long and into the corner to force Ospreys to put out and then take your chances off your line out.

It would go against everything Munster stand for, but when the game is in the bag and you are spending all your time pointlessly defending near your line when the match is won, it is strategically the right thing to do. Munster did get their bonus point in the end, but mainly through Ospreys errors in the chase for a losing bonus point.

The last 10 minutes of many games now is about killing the clock and time management. Time intelligence is now a huge factor in rugby. Sometimes if you need to get the ball back you have to think outside the box! Munster, I know, got their bonus point... just saying!

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