Howlett brace sees Munster tighten title grip
Munster 23 Edinburgh 13
Published 19/02/2011 | 05:00
Doug Howlett rolled back the years with a brace of tries to see Munster home in their Magners League tussle against Edinburgh last night.
Tony Buckley also crossed over for a try, while Ronan O'Gara landed eight points with the boot as Tony McGahan's men consolidated their lead at the top of the table.
Edinburgh were not without ambition of their own and showed up well during the opening half when a well-taken try by prop forward Geoff Cross saw them open up a brief five-point lead.
However, there was only ever one side in it after the break, as Munster saw out a comfortable victory.
It was a good night for Munster's Ireland contingent, keen to make an impression ahead of next week's Six Nations trip to Murrayfield. With exactly 200 international caps between them, Munster's half-back pairing of Peter Stringer and O'Gara ran the show from the start to finish, with Denis Leamy prominent as well.
The much-maligned prop Buckley also turned in a positive showing on his first outing since declaring his decision to move clubs at the end of the season.
Solid in the scrum, he was heavily involved in open play throughout, offering Declan Kidney a timely reminder that he has still has plenty to offer on the international stage.
Others to impress included Damien Varley and Lifeimi Mafi, whose midfield partnership with Paul Warwick looked threatening at all times.
A satisfactory night was rounded off when Marcus Horan and Denis Fogarty were both introduced in the second half having recovered from mid-term injuries.
Munster came into the game having won their last five matches against Scottish opposition, but were slow out of the traps and found themselves trailing after three minutes courtesy of a penalty by Chris Paterson.
It wasn't long before they woke up, however, and O'Gara tied up the scores with a penalty of his own before Buckley came to the fore on 13 minutes.
Having got the shove on in a five-metre scrum, the departing tighthead used every one of his 21 stones to barge over from close range after the ball was recycled back in his direction.
Munster were, perhaps, guilty of taking the foot off the pedal thereafter.
O'Gara missed the conversion, while some indiscipline afforded Paterson the opportunity to tag on another penalty, before Cross stole home for a close-range try to put the visitors ahead 13-8.
A brilliant break by Mafi created just enough space for Howlett to scamper home from 30 metres, however, and the sides went into the break tied at 13-13. Munster's momentum continued after the restart, with O'Gara landing another penalty to restore their lead.
And the game looked up for Edinburgh when Howlett crossed over for his second try midway through the half to put daylight between the sides for the first time.
Mafi once again provided the spark, carving through the Edinburgh defence before offloading to Johne Murphy, who in turn found the supporting Howlett who outpaced the cover defence.
O'Gara converted and Munster led 23-13, with just under a quarter of the game to go in hunt of a bonus point.
However, a raft of substitutions saw them lose their way in the final stages, and they never quite showed enough ambition to register a fourth try.
Munster -- J Murphy; D Howlett, L Mafi, P Warwick, D Hurley (S Zebo 74); R O'Gara, P Stringer (D Williams 69); W du Preez (M Horan 63), D Varley (D Fogarty 69), T Buckley; D Ryan, M O'Driscoll; D Leamy (capt), T O'Donnell (B Holland 60), J Coughlan.
EDINBURGH -- C Paterson; L Jones (S Webster 74), B Cairns (N De Luca 71), J King, T Visser; D Blair, G Laidlaw (capt); K Traynor (L Niven 57), A Kelly, G Cross (D Young 77); S MacLeod, S Turnbull; F McKenzie (R Grant 71), R Rennie (A MacDonald 36), N Talei.
Ref -- Nigel Owens