Clinical Munster secure home quarter-final in style
Munster 38 Edinburgh 6
The rush of fans from Thomond Park to their nearest television screens was made in even more haste than usual this afternoon as the Munster faithful eagerly anticipate news of who they will host in the Heineken Cup quarter-final.
This comprehensive, six-try win over Edinburgh means that Limerick will play host to a last eight clash and all that remains to be seen is whether it is Leinster, Clermont or Toulouse they face. That will be decided this afternoon by Clermont’s home game against Racing Metro
Toulouse’s failure to get a bonus point in their win over Zebre opened the door for Munster and they stepped right through it. A knee injury suffered by Keith Earls was the only dark spot on an otherwise celebratory occasion.
A sluggish start allowed Greig Laidlaw two kicks at goal in the first seven minutes and, although he pushed the first wide, the Scotland scrum-half made no mistake with his second opportunity.
But, Paul O’Connell eased any worries around Thomond Park by collecting the resultant Ian Keatley kick-off, however, carrying deep into Edinburgh territory before Damien Varley took on the baton.
Spotting an overlap, Conor Murray moved the ball left where Johne Murphy fed James Coughlan and he cut inside the cover to score the first of Munster’s tries.
Keatley missed his conversion, but the home side carried on relentlessly with the forwards exerting all sorts of pressure they began to turn the screw.
Casey Laulala’s forced off-load went forward ending a promising move in the Edinburgh ’22, but Dave Kilcoyne forced the scrum penalty and Keatley went to touch. A neat move at the front saw O’Connell go close, before Izak van der Westhuizen strayed offside under the posts.
Peter O’Mahony opted for the scrum and the first effort collapsed. Wayne Barnes awarded a penalty and Munster reset. This time, the ball spurted out the back but Murray popped the ball to Murphy and he skipped inside the weak cover to score.
Keatley converted and wit just 22 minutes gone the target of four tries was looking within sights. Munster’s tails were up and an Earls turnover saw Tommy O’Donnell move the ball right and KEatley release Murray whose march was halted on the edge of the ’22.
Damien Varley decided to play scrum-half with disastrous consequences. The hooker’s woeful pass went way behind the backline and, while attempting to tidy up, Earls suffered a knee injury in Dougie Fife’s tackle.
He limped off and Simon Zebo came on, but although the replacement got involved early, the long stoppage stopped the momentum and Laidlaw pulled another penalty back.
Indeed, it could have been closer but for some excellent defending on Munster’s line as Zebo stopped Laidlaw short before Greig Tonks knocked on.
The half ended in some frustration for Munster, but the final play had irked O’Mahony who alerted Barnes to a piece of what he felt was foul play. The video review showed blindside Cornell du Preez making head-to-head contact with O’Connell as he cleared out the ruck and the English referee, somewhat harshly, sent him to the sin bin.
Nothing accrued from the penalty, but Munster had 10 minutes after half-time to kill the game off.
And they didn’t waste any time. The impressive O’Donnell cut open the Edinburgh defence and was clever to feed the ball out of Roddy Grant’s tackle to Stephen Archer. With the visitors scrambling, Coughlan made headway on the left wing, before Kilcoyne went close with a drive and Murray eventually darted over the white-wash for the third try.
Keatley converted and Munster continued to press for that fourth try, with Zebo at the heart of their good play.
A Barnes call at a 5m scrum went against them, while a Keatley knock-on stemmed their flow but still they kept coming. A Laulala chip looked likely to bounce up for Felix Jones until Tom Brown’s deliberate knock on and Keatley went to the corner.
O’Donnell was stopped short from a clever move at the front and after a succession of forwards tried their luck, Peter O’Mahony was tackled by Laidlaw and out-half Tonks but pumped his legs to get over the line and touch down.
With less than an hour gone, their mission had been achieved and from there they could enjoy it.
And Zebo marked his impressive return from the foot injury he suffered against these opponents in October by touching down in the corner after more strong work from O’Donnell.
BJ Botha was denied a six try for crossing earlier in the move but Munster were in a greedy mood and kept on plugging for the cherry on top.
Despite the game being over, Edinburgh kept defending desperately and saw Geoff Cross sin-binned for pulling down a maul. Keatley went to touch, the forwards had a go with little success and JJ Hanrahan decided to go wide, feeding Laulala who helped it on to Zebo and he sent Jones over in the corner.
Job done, now for the calculator.
MUNSTER – F Jones; K Earls (S Zebo 25), C Laulala, J Downey (JJ Hanrahan 53), J Murphy; I Keatley, C Murray (D Williams 70); D Kilcoyne (J Cronin 60), D Varley (D Casey 67), S Archer (BJ Botha 59); D Foley, P O’Connell (Donncha O’Callaghan 67); P O’Mahony (capt) (P Butler 67-77), T O’Donnell, J Coughlan.
EDINBURGH -- J Cuthbert; D Fife, N De Luca, B Atiga (J Dominguez 53-59), T Brown; G Tonks (C Bezuidenhout 60), G Laidlaw (capt) (G Hart 60); A Dickinson (L Blaauw 67), R Ford, W Nel (G Cross 60); G Gilchrist, I Van Der Westhuizen (O Atkins 49); C Du Preez, R Grant (T Leonardi 59) (W Nel 80), D Denton.
Referee: W Barnes (RFU)