Saturday 21 September 2019

Earls plays the starring role to keep Munster show on road

Edinburgh 13 Munster 17

Keith Earls scores his second try during the Champions Cup quarter-final win over Edinburgh at BT Murrayfield Stadium yesterday. Photo: Paul Devlin/Sportsfile
Keith Earls scores his second try during the Champions Cup quarter-final win over Edinburgh at BT Murrayfield Stadium yesterday. Photo: Paul Devlin/Sportsfile

Murrayfield

The script may repeat itself, but the characters are household names and the audience keep tuning in for the drama of Munster's European story.

Yesterday, old favourite Keith Earls was on hand to rescue the damsel in distress this time around and send her marching into a 13th Champions Cup semi-final. Murrayfield provided the back-drop and once again the Red Army turned up en masse for the show, making up around 15,000 of the 36,358 in attendance to sing out their heroes with their traditional theme-tune as the credits rolled.

This, however, is no happy ending, rather it's a step along the way. This Munster squad won't want to stop at a third successive last-four appearance.

Saracens stand in their way of a first final since 2008 and they'll need huge improvements on Easter weekend to make it to Newcastle. But, after putting together a game-plan with just a week's post-Six Nations preparations and suffering considerable match-day disruption, they'll be happy enough.

Munster's Tadhg Beirne is tackled by Grant Gilchrist of Edinburgh during the quarter-final. Photo: Paul Devlin/Sportsfile
Munster's Tadhg Beirne is tackled by Grant Gilchrist of Edinburgh during the quarter-final. Photo: Paul Devlin/Sportsfile

Mike Haley dropped out on the morning of the game with illness, while Tadhg Beirne was lost for 10 first-half minutes. Jack O'Donoghue and Joey Carbery were gone with injury before half-time, but still Munster held their nerve.

They played without the ball and in their own half for most of the game, putting in a mammoth defensive shift against an improving Edinburgh side, who like so many previous opponents felt they left a famous victory behind them.

Earls' opportunistic first-half try put Munster ahead against the run of play and, when they needed a big moment to go their way as the clock ticked into the last 10 minutes, he punished a moment of madness from prop Pierre Schoeman. The South African needlessly body-checked Beirne, who made the most of the contact. Tyler Bleyendaal kicked for position and rescued Rhys Marshall's over-thrown lineout. When the ball came his way, Earls finished superbly in the corner.

Edinburgh mustered a response, but the red wall held firm.

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"I'm delighted, it was an incredible game of rugby between two sides who didn't know how to give up," said coach Johann van Graan. "A lot of credit to Cockers (Richard Cockerill) and Edinburgh, a brilliant performance from their side. They tested us literally from the first second.

"We as a group spoke this whole week about how this game might go until extra-time; they certainly kept going and we kept going. It's our third semi-final in a row and this was a big one for us.

Munster's Chris Farrell of Munster by Edinburgh's Jaco Van Der Walt. Photo: Paul Devlin/Sportsfile
Munster's Chris Farrell of Munster by Edinburgh's Jaco Van Der Walt. Photo: Paul Devlin/Sportsfile

"Just look at the history of European rugby, you don't come away with away quarter-final wins. We topped our pool, we knew were coming up against a very tough, disciplined side."

Van Graan is only at Munster a year and a half, but he has bought in totally to the romantic side of the province's story.

"Firstly, off the field I think it is the people," he said when asked what makes Munster as resilient as they are. "If you were inside the bus when we arrived here, it's breath-taking to see the supporters. It felt like we were going to play at home.

"In terms of the group, that's why I came to Munster because of what Munster is about. It's about passion, integrity, real heart and real grit. Munster never seem to do it the easy way and we certainly didn't today. So, I'm incredibly proud to be coach of this team.

"The message from me to the team was 'brilliant, let's enjoy tonight. It's our third semi-final in a row, it's going to be a massive semi-final and we have got big dreams and we will get to that in a few weeks' time'."

They can play much, much better when they travel to the Ricoh Arena in Coventry in three weeks' time and they'll know that if Saracens are gifted as much of the ball as Edinburgh were yesterday they'll make it count.

Munster's CJ Stander in action at Murrayfield. Photo: Paul Devlin/Sportsfile
Munster's CJ Stander in action at Murrayfield. Photo: Paul Devlin/Sportsfile

Three times in the opening stages, the Scots turned down kickable penalties, but despite losing Beirne to the bin Munster held firm.

And, on their first visit to Edinburgh territory, Henry Pyrgos gave away a cheap penalty and, with the defence napping, Earls tapped and raced over.

Cockerill's men hit back through centre Chris Dean, who left Conor Murray in his wake as the home fans erupted. Jaco van der Walt levelled with his conversion and edged his side in front with a penalty as Munster's poor work at the breakdown stymied their momentum.

They lost Carbery to a recurrence of his hamstring problem, but Bleyendaal came on and kicked his side level just after half-time. Van der Walt restored the lead, but despite keeping the ball for long phases the home side couldn't make their advantage pay, with Andrew Conway and Earls making key defensive interventions.

Still, Munster's own trips to Edinburgh territory were fleeting and unsuccessful and when a 10-man lineout didn't come off and Peter O'Mahony turned down a kickable penalty, only for Edinburgh to win a scrum decision, the chance looked to be slipping away.

Then, a tiring Schoeman stepped into Beirne's path and referee Pascal Gauzere handed Munster their moment.

Earls didn't need asking twice as Moyross's own matinee idol spectacularly won the day.

Scorers - Edinburgh: Dean try, Van der Walt 2 pens, con; Munster: Earls 2 tries, Bleyendaal pen, con, Carbery pen.

Edinburgh: D Graham; D Hoyland, J Johnstone (M Bennett 72), C Dean, D van der Merwe; J van der Walt, 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.

Referee: P Gauzere (France)

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