Munster move closer to Champions Cup after edging out Edinburgh in nail-biting finale
Munster 27 Edinburgh 19
NEW territory for Munster, this. So long used to fighting to be champions, now they were fighting to avoid becoming chumps.
Within the last ten minutes at Irish Independent Park, Munster were at once staving off an improbable Edinburgh comeback before securing an improbable bonus point victory with Francis Saili's late surge.
It reminded one of so many glorious nights in Europe; it was the determination to recreate them which echoed through this committed, brave and nervy display.
Effectively, they held their nerve when they needed to and destiny, crucially, remains in their own hands.
Now round one is over; victory against Scarlets next week should secure Munster their Champions Cup slot, after first-half tries from Rory Scannell, Simon Zebo and Andrew Conway laid the foundations for a nervy win.
Munster led 20-10 after 33 minutes but Edinburgh slowly but surely fought their way back to 20-19 with just 15 remaining.
In that first-half, Munster played their best rugby when under no pressure and their tries flowed from that. When they tightened, and Edinburgh's scrum threatened to turn the screw, that was when the fears resumed.
They went almost 40 minutes without scoring but they held out stoutly in the second-half when they needed to.
The visitors owned early ball but CJ Stander won two early turnovers and then, as if from nothing, the home side pounced to score, Andrew Conway's magnificent take on half-way from the first decent kick kick-starting the move.
When Edinburgh's full-back, Blair Kinghorn, dithered in his 22 attempting to gather a further kick, Munster's enthusiastic chase, led by Keith Earls, secured the turnover and, a couple of economic recycles later, Rory Scannell had brightened the mood with just seven minutes gone.
Johnny Holland's neat conversion lifted the hearts more.
Edinburgh earned a penalty for 7-3 as reward for some fine play; Matt Scott embarrassing Munster's midfield with a scintillating break. But there was more embarrassment to come.
Try-scorer Scannell and Zebo were beaten all ends up by out-half Tovey; Munster's pitiful defence has been the primary reason they are in this mess.
The 8,200 crowd fell into stunned silence; the scorer's conversion from beneath the posts put them 10-7 ahead with just 15 minutes gone.
Back came Munster with a Holland penalty until Conway once again lit the blue touchpaper for a scintillating score.
As Munster moved wide from a scrum on their ten-metre line to the left, there seemed little on as Conway drifted towards his right wing, short of half-way but, bouncing his opposite number, suddenly he and Zebo were in command of the attack.
He judged his kick ahead superbly, so too Zebo the collection of the bouncing ball with his left hand.
It was a delightful score; now a lead, 15-10, restored and, it seemed, their confidence as they began to sustain some combatant passages of phased play for the first time.
Recalled winger Conway got the try he deserved when more pressure in the 22 ended with the predictably outstanding Stander feeding Billy Holland, before the lock's pass found the hungry Dubliner.
As a rainbow appeared spectacularly from the dark skies, it seemed as if the entire stadium had located winning lottery tickets in their coat pockets.
This is Munster, though and they are as capricious as the April weather; Edinburgh's scrum was an obvious weapon and it brought them within a seven-pointer by half-time.
The break didn't deter them; Tovey added a penalty after four minutes of really assured play from the visitors after their restart had been kicked back to them; 20-16 and the nerves jangled in the ever chilling evening air.
And then, pretty much nothing happened for the next ten minutes, aside from a clatter of stealthily advancing Edinburgh scrums and the predictable slew of errors from the Welsh whistler who has annoyed plenty of the locals already this season.
Truly, these were two average teams in a mid-table scrap in an average league. Edinburgh seemed content to recycle the ball and wait for Munster's defence to make a mistake; usually, Edinburgh made the mistake.
When that trend was reversed midway through the half, replacement Sam Hidalgo-Clyne kicked his side within a point, 20-19 with just 15 minutes left.
One moment of audacity, Johnny Holland's chip and charge, earned Munster the relieving penalty to take them deep into opposition territory. Saili's late flourish was, literally, an unexpected bonus.
Munster don't need Champions Cup form. They just want to be in it. This puts them halfway there.
scorers – Munster: Tries: R Scannell, Conway, Zebo, Saili. Cons: Holland 2. Pens: Holland. Edinburgh: Tries: Tovey. Cons: Tovery. Pens: Tovey 3, Hildalgo-Clyne.
Munster – S Zebo; A Conway, F Saili, R Scannell, K Earls; J Holland, C Murray; D Kilcoyne (J Cronin 55), N Scannell (M Sherry 58), S Archer (J Ryan 69); D Foley (R Copeland 63), B Holland; CJ Stander (capt), T O'Donnell, D O'Callaghan (J O'Donoghue 75).
Edinburgh – PB Kinghorn (D Fife 10); D Hoyland, M Scott, A Strauss (C Dean HT), T Brown; J Tovey, S Kennedy (S Hidalgo-Clyne 56); A Dickinson (R Sutherland 59), R Ford capt (S McInally HT), WP Nel (J Andress 69); A Bresler (A Toolis 69), B Toolis; J Ritchie (M Bradbury 53), J Hardie, C Du Preez.
ref – Ian Davies (WRU)