A late Simon Zebo try proved the difference as Munster scrapped to a hard-fought win over the Scarlets to secure top spot in the Magners League and a home play-off semi-final.
Tony McGahan's men needed three points to ensure they finished top of the pile and just one point to book a Thomond Park play-off semi-final. And they completed the job with two games to spare in an uninspiring encounter at Parc Y Scarlets.
The two sides were locked at 6-6 with 10 minutes to go as the game appeared to be destined to finish in a dour draw. But Zebo pounced in the 68th minute to secure the all-important win.
With their place in the Magners League play-offs virtually secured, McGahan made sweeping changes for the trip to west Wales, with only three players remaining from the starting XV that secured a place in the Amlin Challenge Cup semi-finals. And despite failing to fire on all cylinders in this league encounter, the decision paid off .
"We're delighted to get the win, which guarantees us a home draw, especially after the disappointments we've had this year," Munster captain Denis Leamy said. "Hopefully we can now go on to put two trophies in the cabinet.
"The Scarlets threw everything at us but we worked really hard in defence and there were some big hits."
Rhys Priestland opened the scoring for the hosts after 18 minutes with his first penalty. Munster fought back, Paul Warwick drawing them level on 39 minutes, and then nudging McGahan's men into a slender 6-3 lead with the final kick of the half.
The hosts dominated territory and Priestland made no mistake to draw the scores level on 52 minutes. But with 12 minutes remaining, Zebo grabbed the decisive try. Scarlets centre Regan King was caught in possession, with Zebo on hand to hack the bobbling ball forward and score to opportunist try. Warwick converted.
In a frantic finale, the Scarlets fought back and had several opportunities, but Munster held on for victory.
Scorers -- Scarlets: R Priestland 2 pens. Munster: P Warwick 2 pens, con; S Zebo try.
Scarlets: M Stoddart; G North, R King, G Maule (S Williams 68), S Lamont (S Jones 60); R Priestland, T Knoyle (G Davies 70); I Thomas (R Jones 77), M Rees (E Phillips 68), R Thomas (S Gardiner 68); L Reed, J Turnbull (A Shingler 68); R McCusker, J Edwards, D Lyons.
Munster: P Warwick; D Barnes, J Murphy (S Deasy 44), L Mafi, S Zebo; D Cusack (S Tuitupou 41), P Stringer (D Williams 68); M Horan (D Hurley 66), M Sherry (D Fogarty 55), S Archer (J Hayes 55); D Ryan, M O'Driscoll; T O'Donnell, N Ronan (A Quinlan 57), D Leamy.
Referee: A Lewis (Ireland).
Sunday Indo Sport