Tuesday 22 October 2019

Munster through to last four of Champions Cup as Keith Earls scores late try in dramatic win over Edinburgh

Edinburgh 13 Munster 17

Keith Earls of Munster celebrates with team-mate Peter O'Mahony
Keith Earls of Munster celebrates with team-mate Peter O'Mahony
Peter O’Mahony of Munster is tackled by John Barclay of Edinburgh
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Before this Champions Cup quarter-final Keith Earls spoke of his frustration at Munster's missed opportunities. At Murrayfield, he took things into his own hands to deliver victory from the jaws of defeat and book the province's place in their 13th European semi-final.

The Moyross man, the last surviving member of the squad that last won the Heineken Champions Cup in 2008, punished Pierrer Schoeman's moment of madness with a superb finish 10 minutes from time.

Having spent most of an error-strewn performance on the ropes, Tyler Bleyendaal nailed a tough conversion to make it a four point game and they managed it home from there.

They did it despite losing Mike Haley before kick-off and Jack O'Donoghue and Joey Carbery before half-time. Operating on limited possession and territory, they tackled their hearts out and needed superb covering efforts from Andrew Conway and Earls to keep them in the game but they clung on in and struck when the opportunity finally came.

It was classic cup rugby and another chapter in the Munster legend, but they won't rest until they have ended their 11 year wait for a title. Saracens or Glasgow await in the semi-final and they'll need to be better to make it to Newcastle.

Still Johann van Graan can be delighted with his team's effort, particularly given the disruption.

They were forced into a late change as Haley withdrew, forcing them into a reshuffle with Conway moving to full-back and Darren Sweetnam coming on to the wing.

Edinburgh started with intent at the breakdown, with their counter-rucking forcing Conor Murray into retreat before O'Donoghue was penalised for holding on under pressure from Stuart McInally.

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Rather than take the points, the Scots went to the corner and they did so again when Rory Scannell was caught on the wrong side of a ruck.

This time, the red wall stood tall and after, Niall Scannell put Hamish Watson on the back foot, CJ Stander got in on the ball and forced the penalty.

The game was being played at a frantic pace with turnovers on both sides, but a spill from Niall Scannell led to a big moment in the Munster '22 as John Barclay popped up on Watson's shoulder after his own chip ahead, but Tadhg Beirne hauled him down and stayed on the ball too long.

After reviewing the footage, the Kildare man was sent to the sin-bin.

Again, Edinburgh went to the corner and again Munster held firm as Jack O'Donoghue forced a key turnover on his own line.

After defending for most of the opening quarter, they finally got a chance to attack after Joey Carbery's kick came off an Edinburgh foot and bounced into touch before Keith Earls forced Duhan van der Merwe over his own line with the ball.

With Chris Farrell packing down on the openside, the scrum held and when Henry Pyrgos stupidly slapped the ball out of Murray's hand; Earls took a quick tap penalty and scampered past the sleeping defence.

Carbery nailed his conversion and, although they failed to deal with the restart, auxiliary flanker Farrell came up with a big turnover and Beirne returned with the situation greatly improved.

The turnover-fest continued, however, with McInally winning possession back and this time Edinburgh took advantage.

With the big boys struggling to find gaps, diminutive full-back Darcy Graham picked and stepped through the ruck and, with Munster scrambling, Chris Dean followed up carries from Watson and McInally by stepping his way past a poor attempt at a tackle from Murray to score.

Jaco van der Walt levelled the scores with the conversion and things boiled over a little when Andrew Conway took Graham out in the air.

Still, the turnovers continued as Beirne picked off McInally's throw but Jean Kleyn knocked-on and that error was compounded by a scrum penalty.

Edinburgh kicked for position and went through their phases. Rory Scannell looked like he'd turned it over, but Damien Hoyland won the ball back and Niall Scannell's over-enthusiastic ruck work allowed van der Walt kick his side in front.

As he did, Carbery left the fray and it was up to Tyler Bleyendaal to guide them home.

They went in three points down having barely fired a shot and their scrum got them into position with a dominant effort that gave the Kiwi out-half a chance to kick to the edge of the '22.

The attack couldn't yield a try but a high Mata tackle on Rory Scannell allowed Bleyendaal draw his side level from in front of the posts.

The parity didn't last long as the tension mounted and the kick tennis began, with both sides looking to force errors in the opposition territory.

Pyrgos aimed a box-kick Conway's way and when the full-back came down he was enveloped in navy with Watson winning a penalty for van der Walt to kick.

The Edinburgh scrum-half followed up his excellent kick with a way-ward strike that went out on the full and handed Munster a lineout on the edge of the '22. When their maul was pulled down illegally, Bleyendaal kicked to the corner. In a tight game, it looked like a key moment.

They went for a 10-man maul but couldn't get the drive moving. Sweetnam's quick feet got them close to the line, Stander followed up by going within inches and when John Ryan went he knocked on.

Referee Pascal Gauzere was playing advantage for a Pyrgos offside and Peter O'Mahony went for the scrum. The call back-fired as this time it was Edinburgh got the shove on and forced a relieving penalty.

That got the crowd on their feet and they were up again when Pierre Schoeman got over Stephen Archer and won another key turnover.

Earls had to be alert to force Gray into touch after a promising attack, but Gauzere went back after a ridiculously long advantage for a knock-on.

The Munster scrum held firm and, when Edinburgh moved the ball wide to Hoyland, Conway was there to hunt him into touch.

They were key tackles, but Munster needed to get some possession to ask questions of their own.

Again, when they got a chance, their breakdown work let them down as McInally thwarted a promising phase of play by getting in over the ball.

On a day for keeping cool heads, it was Schoeman who lost his – throwing a needless off the ball shoulder into Beirne who made the most of the contact.

This time, Munster took their chance despite Rhys Marshall's throw sailing over Beirne.

Bleyendaal reacted first to rescue the situation, Stander and Archer made gains and when Murray looked wide he found Rory Scannell and Farrell who handed it off to Earls who finished superbly in the right hand corner.

Bleyendaal nailed the touch-line conversion and the stunned home side found themselves four down with eight minutes to go.

Their attempts to chase the game played out to the sound of the Munster chorus as the large travelling contingent found their voice.

Arno Botha came up with a big play to strip Mata of possession, Billy Holland won a lineout against the head and the home side's heads started to drop.

Still, they summoned one last effort and played their way from deep in their own half to Munster territory. Just as the men in red started to flag, Botha managed a despairing tackle that forced Jamie Ritchie into a knock-on.

The red swathes erupted with relief. Munster live to fight another day.

EDINBURGH – D Graham; D Hoyland, J Johnstone (M Bennett 72), C Dean, D van der Merwe; J van der Waltm H Pyrgos (C Shiel 77); P Schoeman (A Dell 77), S McInally (capt) (R Ford 77), WP Nel (S Berghan 58); B Toolis, G Gilchrist; J Barclay (M Bradbury 58), H Watson (J Ritchie 72), V Mata.

MUNSTER – A Conway; D Sweetnam, C Farrell, R Scannell (D Goggin 77), K Earls; J Carbery (T Bleyendaal 36), C Murray; D Kilcoyne (J Loughman 61), N Scannell (R Marshall 65), J Ryan (S Archer 58); J Kleyn (B Holland 4-14, 60), T Beirne; P O'Mahony (capt), J O'Donoghue (A Botha 29), CJ Stander.

Ref: P Gauzere (France)

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