Scarlets 14 - 17 Munster: Red letter day for Irish as home side lose close contest

THESE two giants of European rugby came into this match unbeaten in the Heineken Cup but it was Munster who came away with the precious away win.

This was a real old fashioned European arm wrestle which almost inevitably favoured the Irish who are past masters at getting over the line.

The Irish province have now won their three European matches by a combined total of eight points and they were pushed all the way again yesterday. Defending a three point margin late in the game they soaked up everything that the Scarlets could throw at them in the final ten minutes as the home side searched in desperation for a chink in Munster’s armour.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

It was ultimately futile. After umpteen phases of play Stephen Jones knocked the ball on, Munster won the scrum and then a penalty that allowed them to lift the siege.

The intensity was there for all to see, the players’ bodies will attest to that and even the referee got caught up as the meat in one tackle sandwich, but the accuracy was missing from much of the action with both sides guilty of mistakes and coughing up turnovers like Christmas had come early.

Astonishingly the Scarlets have lost their last 12 games in all competitions against the Irish province and it was unlucky 13 for them yesterday as Munster recovered from a scratchy start to record another European victory.

Making his 100th Heineken appearance much of Munster’s best play inevitably came from their veteran flyhalf Ronan O’Gara who shows no signs of slowing down at the age of 34. He shows no signs of tackling either, Sean Lamont ran right over him twice in quick succession, but when he pulls and prods his team with the expertise he showed yesterday he can be forgiven that little lapse.

The Scarlets came out the traps like they meant it, racing into an early lead that would have been even greater had Rhys Priestland brought his kicking boots. The flyhalf missed two penalties and one conversion that proved crucial on the day and he failed to spark the Scarlets backline albeit in difficult conditions. Stephen Jones eventually took over kicking duties but it was late in the game before the veteran made an appearance off the bench, too late to save his side.

The first try came directly from a Munster mistake when winger Simon Zebo knocked on, the ball was hacked ahead and sat up nicely for blindside flanker Aaron Shingler to dive over. Priestland’s conversion hit the post but the flyhalf added another penalty to give the home team an 8-0 lead after as many minutes. That was as good as it got because Munster tightened their grip on this match from that moment on and never let it go.

Munster got their first points after a little prod from O’Gara ensured that Priestland had to carry the ball over his own try line. Munster won a penalty at the ensuing scrum and O’Gara did his stuff. Another penalty saw O’Gara try a sneaky cross field kick to fullback Denis Hurley but the Scarlets closed ranks just in time to prevent that score.

Munster’s try was a thing of beauty. A loose kick from defence was fielded and Hurley did fantastically well to offload one-handed to Johne Murphy and the winger linked with Niall Ronan with the breakaway utilising the pace he boasted while playing the game at centre to score in the corner.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

With the rain coming down further tries were always going to be at a premium. Instead O’Gara stepped up to the plate with further penalties on 37, 55 and 61 minutes to give Munster a six point lead. In reply Priestland kicked one but missed another although Stephen Jones’ strike 13 minutes from time set up an utterly absorbing finale.

Appropriately enough the final whistle arrived only after another unforced error, Priestland knocking on as the Scarlets attempted to run the ball out of defence. It was a day to forget for the Welsh flyhalf.

Scorers: Scarlets: Try: Shingler Conv: Pen: Priestland (2), Jones. Munster: Try: Ronan Conv: Pen: O’Gara (4)

Scarlets: Newton (S Jones 57 min), L Williams (Iongi 75 min), S Williams, J Davies, Lamont; Priestland, G Davies (Knoyle 57 min); I Thomas, Rees, R Thomas, Timani, Welch, Shingler (Edwards 48 min), McCusker, Morgan.

Munster: Hurley, Murphy, Chambers, Mafi, Zebo; O’Gara, Murray (O’Leary 62 min); du Preez (Horan 75 min), Varley, Botha (Hayes 76 min), Ryan (O’Callaghan 55 min), O’Connell, O’Mahony (Leamy 40 min), Ronan, Coughlan.

Referee: R Poite (FFR).

Related topics: