Touch and go as Scarlets push Munster to the limit

Munster 14 Llanelli 13

Llanelli out-half Mike Hercus missed an injury-time penalty and the Scarlets launched another last-gasp assault right at the end before Munster breathed a sigh of relief.

Yet, through the trauma, Munster coach Declan Kidney had some reason to be pleased, particularly with the performance of Ian Dowling on the left wing. In his first Celtic League game, Dowling scored a try and saved one. He and full-back Barry Murphy stood out for Munster on a night when back play was hardly perfect.

Tomás O'Leary, a late replacement for the injured Peter Stringer, did well too, but the Munster pack, despite long periods of dominance, didn't always provide O'Leary with quality possession.

For that, Llanelli will thank the magnificent spoiling tactics of Irish and Lions flanker Simon Easterby.

Easterby galvanised a Llanelli pack that at one stage looked like being swept aside by the sheer power and ball winning capabilities of the Munster eight, led superbly by Anthony Foley.

But, again, Munster failed to put the opposition away when in a position of power. It is a worrying trend that Kidney, the back room team and the players themselves will have to address when the heat is turned up in the Heineken Cup in the coming weeks.

It was an absorbing first half, with Llanelli starting well before falling behind to a Ronan O'Gara penalty after 14 minutes. Munster ruled for long periods after that and went in front when Dowling fastened onto a chip ahead from Ronan O'Gara. Alan Quinlan overran the ball but Dowling was there to pounce on the loose ball and claim the try.

The lead was no more than Munster deserved, with Paul O'Connell dominant out of touch and the pack in total control.

But Llanelli responded by scoring twice in the following minutes with tries of exceptional quality.

Full-back Lee Byrne and centre Matthew Watkins finished the moves off to give the Scarlets a 10-8 lead.

With the wind at his back, Hercus finally knocked over a penalty to give the visitors a five points advantage. If not on the run of play, but at least for the good football Llanelli produced, it was not an undeserved lead.

Munster hardly went into top gear early in the second half; indeed Llanelli looked the more threatening in that spell. But Munster did eventually get into their stride and O'Gara kicked a 20th minute penalty after seven minutes of pressure to close the gap to two points.

Adam Jones was shown the yellow card after illegally stopping a driving maul and O'Gara knocked over the resultant penalty from 45 metres to put Munster back in front 14-13.

The game finished on a worrying note for Munster. John Hayes was harshly sin-binned for a scrummaging offence and that gave Llanelli a lifeline. Happily, from Munster's point of view, it was one they couldn't quite grasp.

MUNSTER: B. Murphy, J. Kelly, D. Leamy, t. Halstead, I. Dowling, R. O'Gara, T. O'Leary, F. Pucciariello, F. Sheahan, J. Hayes, D. O'Callaghan, P. O'Connell, A. Quinlan, A. Foley (captain), D. Wallace.

Replacements: R. Henderson for Leamy (40). M. O'Driscoll for O'Connell (74), M. Horan for Pucciariello (77). Pucciariello for Foley (78), Yellow card J. Hayes (77)

LLANELLI: L. Byrne, D. James, M. Watkins. R. King, T. Selley, M. Hercus, c. Stuart-Smith, L. Thomas, A. Gravelle, J. Davies, H. Louw, A. Jones, J. Mills, a. Popham, S. Easterby (captain).

Replacements: C. Wyatt for Louw (48), L. Davis for Stuart-Smith (73). Yellow card. A. Jones (65).

Referee: A. Ireland (Scotland).

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