Thursday 19 September 2019

Munster hold their nerve to see off Edinburgh and set up Pro14 semi-final against Leinster

Munster 20 Edinburgh 16

Keith Earls of Munster is congratulated by teammates
Keith Earls of Munster is congratulated by teammates
David Kelly

David Kelly

MUNSTER squeaked their way past Edinburgh to book their place in a Guinnnes PRO 14 semi-final against Leinster at the RDS in a fortnight's time.

Peter O'Mahony's late lineout steal deprived Edinburgh of the final platform they needed to clinch a famous victory; it would have been an equally infamous defeat.

The visitors were the better team for long stretches and a repeat of this often listless display, particularly in the first-half, would not be of the requisite standard to trouble their Irish rivals on their current form.

Rhys Marshall scored early after Edinburgh messed up a lineout but Edinburgh created the better chances although still trailed 7-6 at the break.

A moment of magic from Simon Zebo, playing his final game at home before departing for Racing Metro, created the second try for his side, chipping and gathering a midfield dink before releeasing the flying Keith Earls down the left wing shortly after the resumption.

But a 17-6 lead in the 51st minute was all but wiped out within nine minutes as Nathan Fowles' try launched a spirited comeback before JJ Hanrahan's late penalty sealed the nervy win.

It should have been much easier than this after Johann van Graan's men had been gifted the perfect start after just eight minutes.

With Stewart McInally priming his side for an exit deep inside his own 22, his elaborate over-throw instead rocked his sides on his heels as Rhys Marshall sprung from his, gathering the loose ball and ploughing for the line beneath a bevvy of bodies.

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JJ Hanrahan, whose precise kick into the corner had presented Munster with the territorial gain, slotted an excellent conversion as he settled into his maiden start this season as first-choice out-half.

Edinburgh should have responded within minutes; the lightning quick Blair Kinghorn and Duhan van der Merwe combining to run the ball back some 80 metres following Hanrahan's poor kick; Jaco van der Walt then took up the cudgels but was hauled down by Conor Murray close to the line.

As Edinburgh rebooted, the forwards ultimately tossed the scoring chance away; Simon Berghan knocking on a Ben Toolis pass with the line at his mercy.

Edinburgh continued to play all the rugby and, woryingly, Stephen Archer was forced off in the 13th minute, prompting the introduction of Ciaran Parker, the Irish-qualified summer signing from Sale who has played most of his rugby this term for Shannon in Division 1B of the Ulster Bank league.

A 19th minute penalty from Sam Hidalgo-Clyne offered Edinburgh some encouragement for some enterprising football; another five minutes later boosted their confidence. Only one team was playing the rugby and Munster were falling off too many tackles and soaking others.

Parker winning a penalty from his opening scrum was an unexpected bonus for a side struggling to gain traction despite their early lead; sadly, Hanrahan couldn't frank the confidence boost with points and he dragged a poor penalty attempt wide.

Munster's contestable kicking game wasn't producing results and it also resulted in Andrew Conway departing for a HIA before half-time.

Edinburgh were controlling the tempo; not so much quick-slow as slow-slow; Nigel Owens penalised them for taking too long organising a lineout and soon Munster returned to the same corner from which they had scored in the opening moments.

Edinburgh cleared their lines this time, though.

Another poor kick from Munster allowed Kinghorn to counter once more though and twice Keith Earls had to rescue the situation until his side knocked on again.

On a perfect day for rugby, this was a dog of a match.

Conway didn't return for the second-half; the side who did needed to up their game considerably to keep their season alive.

An immediate burst of intensity – and the inspiration – lifted the 10205 crowd.

Playing with an advantage, Simon Zebo's little dink in midfield was a moment of magic. Collecting his kick, he then flung a pass out wide to Keith Earls who sped beyond Dougie Fife to sprint for the line and dive in the corner; Hanrahan added the extras and within three minutes of the resumption, Munster now had a tighter stranglehold on proceedings, leading 14-6.

Edinburgh's varied game suffered under the home side's renewed pressure; Hanrahan pushed the lead out to 17-6 with his first penalty success in the 51st minute; Hidalgo-Clyne responded in kind just three minutes later to make it 17-9.

Munster fell asleep in the mid-afternoon sun, though.

A loose grubber from Zebo allowed Bill Mata ti run back strongly from his own half; Kinghorn was again prominent, too and eventually Nathan Fowles got over; Jaco van der Walt converted and on the hour it was again, like at half-time, a one-point lead.

The bench changes, too, seemed to hint at renewed, and gathering momentum for the Scots, as evidenced by a scrum penalty.

One for Munster in the 70th minute, a fortunate award, with the red side marooned in their own half, eased frazzled nerves on and off the field. A subsequent penalty in the lineout offered a position to attack.

Predictably, they messed it up.

Hanrahan, though, did not mess up the penalty chance; now his side led 20-16 with eight minutes left, meaning Edinburgh needed a five-pointer to thieve victory.

They had a late sniff but Peter O'Mahony snatched the final line-out in the game's final play. An escape to victory.

Munster - S Zebo; A Conway (D Sweetnam 31-39 HIA, HT), S Arnold, R Scannell, K Earls; JJ Hanrahan, C Murray; J Cronin (D Kilcoyne 61), R Marshall (M Sherry 70), S Archer (C Parker 17), J Kleyn (G Grobler 52), B Holland, P O'Mahony (capt), J O'Donoghue, CJ Stander (R Copeland 61)

Edinburgh - B Kinghorn; D Fife, M Bennett, C Dean (J Johnstone 76), D van der Merwe; J van der Walt (D Weir 64), S Hidalgo-Clyne (N Fowles 57); J Lay (A Dell 52) S McInally capt (N Cochrane 70), S Berghan (WP Nel 52), B Toolis, G Gilchrist, L Carmichael, M Bradbury, B Mata.

Ref - N Owens (WRU).

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