Stringer excels to stake claim for Irish recall
A WEEK before Ireland's Twickenham Test, scrum-half Peter Stringer made a powerful case for an international recall as young out-half Scott Deasy scored 14 points to help Munster into second place in the table when beating Edinburgh at Musgrave Park last night.
Shorn of their frontline international contingent, Munster also had to deal with an early spate of injuries and Stringer took on the extra burden of responsibility brilliantly, firing out passes with customary speed and precision and providing assured direction throughout.
Kidney will also have been heartened by the performance of Marcus Horan at loose-head prop and a solid display from Denis Hurley at full-back, while No 8 James Coughlan, flanker Alan Quinlan, second-row Mick O'Driscoll and the centre pairing of Jean de Villiers and Lifeimi Mafi also put in strong performances.
Edinburgh started in a manner befitting their third-place position in the table, looking to play the quick rucking game that has characterised the best Scottish rugby over the years.
The visitors also had an edge in the scrum and line-out -- where Munster turned over three throws in quick succession, two of them crooked from hooker Denis Fogarty.
Prop Tony Buckley relieved the early pressure, though, with a superb piece of counter-rucking, breaking out of his 22, but Edinburgh came back again and out-half David Blair opened the scoring with a well-struck drop goal on 12 minutes.
Munster then lost out-half Paul Warwick and second-row Donnacha Ryan to injury, replaced by Cork Constitution pair Scott Deasy and Billy Holland respectively. Soon after, Tommy O'Donnell came on for openside flanker Niall Ronan.
Despite this triple set-back, the home side began to find their feet, helped by Fogarty beginning to find his jumpers and the scrum solidifying.
With Warwick gone, and Deasy still inexperienced at this level, Stringer had to take on more of the decision-making duties and the scrum-half began to direct matters in customary quick-fire fashion.
After getting on a powerful shove in the scrum, Tony McGahan's men worked their way up to the Edinburgh line with Horan burrowing over for the try, and the lead, on 23 minutes.
Deasy missed the simple conversion and put another easy kick against the post five minutes later, Blair having made it 6-5 to Edinburgh in between.
The 21-year-old out-half could be forgiven a few nerves in the circumstances, but his general play was holding up.
And with Quinlan and Horan making their presence felt in the close exchanges, good passing from Deasy put De Villiers on the front foot and took Munster into scoring territory looking for another try before half-time.
A bit of argy-bargy, provoked by Edinburgh loose-head Kyle Traynor, handed Deasy another penalty opportunity after 36 minutes and this time he took it superbly for an 8-6 lead.
A fine break up the middle by centre John Houston looked destined to end in a try for Edinburgh but Hurley, Doug Howlett and Quinlan were able to retrieve the situation.
However, it led to another penalty shot for Blair, who swung the see-saw in the visitors' direction again to make it 9-8 in added time at the end of the half.
There was still time for Mafi and De Villiers to launch an attack down the left, but Fogarty could not control possession as he attempted to drive over and Munster went in at half-time one point down.
Deasy missed a difficult attempt from 45 metres shortly after the restart and the visitors sensed an opportunity to ramp up the pressure, bringing on the vastly experienced international prop Allan Jacobsen for Traynor to put more pressure on Buckley at scrum time.
Mafi was looking dangerous in the centre, but good approach play was undone by subsequent errors, allowing Edinburgh to grow in confidence again, significantly increased when Quinlan was sent to the bin on 52 minutes with Blair kicking the resultant penalty for 12-8.
Munster worked another penalty opportunity, but Deasy's body language was not encouraging and he missed his fourth effort from an eminently kickable position.
To captain O'Driscoll's immense credit, he kept faith in his young out-half and was amply rewarded.
First Deasy knocked over a penalty from in front of the posts for 12-11 and then, after excellent work from Mafi and James Coughlan, he set off up the middle from nearly 40 metres, chipped over right winger Mark Robertson and won the race to the touchdown.
However, just to add to the drama, Deasy missed the easy conversion attempt to leave it at 16-12 to the home side, but he atoned once again with his third penalty as we entered the last 10 minutes to put Munster seven points clear.
A high challenge and yellow card for Mafi ensured a nervous endgame for the home side and their packed support and Edinburgh set up camp on the Munster line.
Replacement wing Tom Gleeson had to pull off an excellent try-saving tackle before the pressure was relieved by Edinburgh giving away a penalty.
And fittingly, it was Stringer who put the ball out of play a couple of minutes later after an encouraging victory that will benefit their emerging players and served as an excellent audition for one of their most experienced campaigners.
MUNSTER -- D Hurley; D Howlett, L Mafi, J de Villiers, I Dowling (T Gleeson 70); P Warwick (S Deasy 14), P Stringer; M Horan, D Fogarty (M Sherry 72), T Buckley (J Brugnaut 57); D Ryan (B Holland 14), M O'Driscoll (capt); A Quinlan, N Ronan (T O'Donnell 15), J Coughlan. Yellow cards: Quinlan 52, Mafi 78
EDINBURGH -- B Cairns; M Robertson, N de Luca, J Houston, T Visser (S Webster 70); D Blair, G Laidlaw (capt); K Traynor (A Jacobsen 46), A Kelly, G Cross (R Grant 65); J Hamilton (C Hamilton 57), S MacLeod; A MacDonald, R Grant, D Callam.
REF -- T Hayes (WRU).