Munster recorded an unconvincing win over Gloucester in a less than full Thomond Park tonight to just about get their Heineken Cup campaign back on track.
After the embarrassment of their performance and loss to Edinburgh a week previous Munster desperately needed a statement tonight. They didn’t provide it and it’s difficult not to believe that Gloucester will rue not sending their strongest line-up to Limerick.
Frustratingly Munster looked more inventive and more ambitious than Gloucester in the opening exchanges but invariably their early good work came to naught as the errors that pock-marked their performance in Murrayfield once again came to the fore.
It was exasperating in the extreme and but for a slice of luck when the TMO ruled in Damien Varley’s favour for his try after 34 minutes Munster might well have turned over facing a deficit.
Their six point lead at the break had much to do with their opening 12 minutes when they swarmed all over Gloucester and forced the Premiership side into conceding penalties which Ian Keatley gratefully converted.
The out-half slotted three in a row for a 9-0 lead during that period as Munster made their supremacy count but even for all their control they never really convinced that they were actually capable of overwhelming Gloucester.
This proved to be the case when Charlie Staples chased down a speculative up-and-under in the 13th minute to force Johne Murphy into conceding an attacking line-out just five metres out. Gloucester took the dart and Staples crossed on the blindside for the game’s opening try.
Mercifully from Munster’s perspective they got the verdict from the TMO for Varley’s try six minutes from the break but there was more than a hint of good fortune as none of the camera angles shown on the stadium big screen or on the television monitors afforded a clear view of the touch-down.
The TMO, Frenchman Eric Gauzins, obviously had access to a greater variety and there was a whoosh of relief when the try was awarded and Munster opened up a more comfortable eight point lead following Keatley’s conversion.
That was reduced to a single score when Johnny Bentley kicked a penalty before the break.
The second half was more of the same from Munster as they allowed Gloucester to take the initiative and the Premiership would have taken the lead but for some magnificent defence from the home side.
Ian Keatley did finally manage to put some more points on the board after 65 minutes before the out-half produced a sliver of magic with a cross-field kick to Johne Murphy.
The winger gobbled up the ball and raced clear to touch-down. Keatley added the extras to put a more flattering sheen on the scoreboard. Keith Earls also had a try ruled out in added time for a forward pass.
Scorers Munster: D Varley try, J Murphy try, I Keatley 4 pens, 2 cons. Gloucester: C Staples try, J Bentley con, pen
MUNSTER: F Jones (D Hurley 57, JJ Hanrahan 65)), K Earls, C Laulala, J Downey, J Murphy, I Keatley, C Murray, D Kilcoyne (J Cronin 66), D Varley (M Sherry), BJ Botha (S Archer 75), D O’Callaghan (J Coughlan 66), P O’Connell, D Ryan (CJ Stander 69), S Dougall, P O’Mahony.
GLOUCESTER: M Thomas (R Cook 7 mins); C Sharples, M Tindall, R Mills, J May; J Bentley (F Burns 49), D Robson (T Knoyle 66); D Murphy, D Dawiduik, R Harden (J Gibbons 75), L Lokotui (J Hudson 49), W James, Matt Cox (G Evans 41), A Qera, B Morgan.
Referee: J Garces, FFR