ALAN Solomons’ Edinburgh tasted another defeat to Munster and shipped five tries in a pulsating season’s opener at Musgrave Park.
Scorers: Munster: Tries: Hurley, Coughlan, Cronin, Dineen, Hanrahan. Cons: Keatley (2), Hanrahan. Pens: Keatley. Edinburgh: Tries: De Luca, Jones. Cons: Francis, Leonard. Pens: Francis (2), Leonard.
Nick de Luca and Lee Jones dotted down for the Scottish side during a much-improved second-half display, but they were helpless to halt the charge of Rob Penney’s side, who took a deserved bonus point.
Forced to line up without the injured Greig Laidlaw and international flyer Tim Visser – who bagged a hat-trick in the corresponding fixture last year – Edinburgh will be satisfied to leave Cork with some positives to work on.
Yet Munster faced their season opener without a few more faces, including Lions Paul O’Connell, Conor Murray and Simon Zebo, while internationals BJ Botha, James Downey, Keith Earls, Felix Jones and Peter O’Mahony have still to feature for Rob Penney’s side this season.
But Munster still had little trouble getting their campaign off to a fine start and it must be a worry for Solomons that they face the two times winners in the Heineken Cup.
Piers Francis opened the scoring for Edinburgh with a tenth minute penalty, but even by that stage Munster looked the safer bet.
In his first Pro12 start prop James Cronin wasted no time in getting involved in the loose, making great yards down the left after one of many slick Munster moves.
After five minutes the impressive Casey Laulala almost got over in the corner after more fine Munster interplay, but just as the try-line beckoned the former All-Black was foiled by Nick de Luca’s terrific covering tackle.
Francis made no mistake with his kick from the right to open the scoring, but three minutes later Munster had the lead their play deserved when Denis Hurley was given the nod by the TMO after the home side cashed in on good carries from Cronin and James Coughlan.
Keatley missed the difficult conversion from the touchline but he had another chance in the 16th minute when Coughlan grabbed Munster’s second try. The team captain was somewhat fortunate that Johne Murphy’s grubber kick landed in his hands via Ronan O’Mahony’s heel, but Murphy’s vision deserved a try.
Second time round Keatley split the posts from the other touchline and he added a penalty in the 21st minute to give Munster a 15-3 lead.
With former Ulster boss Alan Solomons just a few weeks into his role in Edinburgh and his defensive coach Omar Mouneimne just having linked up with the side this week, Edinburgh were always likely to struggle in their opener. But Francis cut their deficit to nine points in the 25th minute with his second penalty after Mike Sherry was penalised at the breakdown.
Edinburgh’s cause was not helped by a yellow card for winger Lee Jones following a tackle on Coughlan while he was fielding a Keatley crossfield kick in the 28th minute and eight minutes from the break Munster made their numerical advantage pay.
This time it was Cronin that crashed over to crown his first Munster start on his home club ground. Again Munster needed the TMO’s assistance, but the try was awarded despite Francis’ best efforts.
Keatley added the extras with ease to give Munster a 22-6 lead at half-time and after a couple of quick replacements Edinburgh began to gain a foothold in the action.
And, ten minutes into the second half, their efforts were rewarded when Nick de Luca broke through a Coughlan tackle to touch down under the posts, with Francis’ conversion pegging Munster back to nine points once more.
Suddenly, despite all of their possession and territorial domination, Munster had still to quench any hopes of an Edinburgh comeback.
But the Musgrave Park crowd didn’t have long to chew their fingernails as less than three minutes later they had sealed the bonus point when Cronin and Coughlan combined to beat the door down for Ivan Dineen to score in the left corner.
JJ Hanrahan touched down late on for his third try in his last three outings for Munster, but that as negated eight minutes from time by Lee Jones’ try down the left wing.
Harry Leonard landed the conversion – his second successful kick after his introduction – to ease Edinburgh back to within 11 points, but Munster held on to take the win, getting their campaign off to the perfect start.
Munster: Hurley; O’Mahony (Bohane 71), Laulala, Dineen, Murphy; Keatley (Hanrahan 64), Williams (Sheridan 55); Cronin (Kilcoyne 61), Sherry (Varley 61), Archer (J Ryan 61); Foley, Donncha O’Callaghan (B Holland 55); Dave O’Callaghan (O’Donnell 55), Dougall, Coughlan.
Edinburgh: Tonks; Fife, De Luca, Atiga (Cuthbert 46), Jones; Francis (Leonard 59), Kennedy (Hidalgo-Clyne 71); Dickinson (Niven 6 blood), Ford, Nel; Gilchrist, Van der Westhuizen (Watson 49); Cox, Grant, Denton.
Referee: M Mitrea (Rom). Attendance: 6,447.