Munster 20-16 Edinburgh: Munster squeeze past Edinburgh to reach semis

Keith Earls stops Dougie Fife in his tracks at Thomond Park. Picture: Billy Stickland/INPHO/REX/Shutterstock
Keith Earls stops Dougie Fife in his tracks at Thomond Park. Picture: Billy Stickland/INPHO/REX/Shutterstock
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Ahead of this semi-final play-off Richard Cockerill insisted that if Edinburgh were in contention going into the final quarter they would win.

He was wrong. His team were trailing 17-16 in Limerick as the clock wound past the 60-minute mark only for JJ Hanrahan to kick a penalty on 72 minutes to give Munster a narrow win, that they just about deserved, and a Pro14 semi-final against Leinster.

Edinburgh finished the game with a spirited, multi-phase assault that took them from their own 22 deep into opposition territory but the visitors’ cause was lost when a late lineout went awry.

Edinburgh lost two throws all match, the first resulted in a try, so they proved costly mistakes.

The Scots were undermined when Jamie Richie failed to travel, which necessitated lock Lewis Carmichael playing the entire match at blindside and Magnus Bradbury sporting the seven shirt.

Edinburgh huffed and puffed and the visitors dominated play for long stretches.

Bill Mata, Stuart McInally and Magnus Bradbury did more than their share of the heavy lifting but the visitors struggled to turn the possession that came their way into points especially in the face of an aggressive Munster defence.

In truth, both sides are better defenders than attackers and Munster’s is accustomed to operating at a higher intensity.

All too often the visitors were rocked backwards in the tackle and when starved of front foot ball Edinburgh looked lost. In perfect conditions for scoring tries, the two teams managed just three all afternoon.

For the all heart they displayed, for all sweat and tears they shed on the day, Edinburgh’s option taking was questionable and their reading of the game poor.

Edinburgh scrum-half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne appeared determined to pass to the side of the field populated by red rather than black jerseys.

Time and again Mata, Mark Bennett or Duhan van der Merwe would make a half break but no one anticipate as much and latched onto their shoulder to carry it on.

Both scrum-halves kicked too much and when the stand-offs took over Hanrahan executed with a precision that the visitors could not match.

At one point van der Merwe was given the ball in space with one man to beat and the big winger slowed down and cut inside. Meanwhile, Edinburgh’s driving maul never got out of first gear.

Blair Kinghorn was the pick of the Edinburgh bunch by a margin. The leggy full-back was the brightest attacking spark on either team.

On 13 minutes he combined with van der Merwe to send Mark Bennett on a charge, he made a scorching solo break that ripped Munster apart and after the break he helped set up Edinburgh only try.

Edinburgh had the first opportunity to attack but Munster had the second and it was the home side who made it count.

Hanrahan rolled the ball into touch deep inside the Edinburgh twenty-two, McInally overcooked his throw and his opposite number Rhys Marshall did well to break a couple of tackles and score from the back of the lineout.

Two penalties from the boot of Hidalgo-Clyne kept Edinburgh in touch with their hosts. Munster took a 7-6 lead into the sheds so the first score of the second half was going to be crucial.

Simon Zebo had been quiet to that point but two minutes after the restart the fullback tidied up a messy piece of play with a piece of individual brilliance, scooping up the bouncing ball before calmly collecting his own chip over the Edinburgh defence and firing a long pass for Keith Earls to score in the left hand corner. The crowd rewarded the departing full-back with chants of: “Zebo, Zebo”.

Hanrahan’s touchline conversion stretched the lead to eight and then eleven when the same man slotted a penalty from dead ahead. Hidalgo-Clyne got three back for Edinburgh before making way for Nathan Fowles on 55 minutes.

It proved an inspired decision because Fowles scored minutes after setting foot on the field. Mata made the initial charge on the right, Kinghorn carried up the left flank and Fowles picked and sprinted in from twenty yards.

We had a one point game with 20 minutes left on the clock but Hanrahan and Munster had the last laugh.