Munster battle past brave Scarlets

MUNSTER enhanced their unbeaten home record with a deserved Magners League triumph over struggling Llanelli Scarlets at Musgrave Park last night.

The victory keeps them firmly in the hunt for a place in the top four play-offs at the end of this league campaign, while Scarlets are now under increased pressure to qualify for next season’s Heineken Cup, although they will be happy with having picked up a bonus point with a late penalty.

It wasn’t all plain sailing for Munster, but the pack paved the way for the victory with Mick O’Driscoll and Billy Holland especially competitive in helping to unravel the Scarlets’ line out.

Equally, the Munster scrum was comfortable and they will be happy with one determined turnover in a difficult moment midway through the first half.

Another of Munster’s hard working forward unit was James Coughlan, whose first half try was important and he admitted that it had been a tough evening.

“We made some errors and they fought for everything, but once we got through our patterns we played quite well. Perhaps we dropped off a bit in patches and we can’t afford to do that.

“Still, we’re happy and we have Glasgow next week so it’s an opportunity for us although there will be no easy games from now on and Glasgow, of course, will be seeking to keep their place in the top four; they’re also playing very well so it could be a tough game for us.”

On a night when Munster youngsters Tom Gleeson and particularly Scott Deasy did well, Jean de Villiers scored what is likely to be his last try for Munster in Cork. The South African international was happy with the score but more with the performance.

“We made our mistakes but I thought that overall we played pretty well; the guys worked very hard for one another and the pack did particularly well.

“We created opportunities by working hard and were able to finish a couple of them off,” he said.

Scarlets had a dream start when taking advantage of a poorly executed chip ahead by Paul Warwick. The kick was charged down by opposite number Rhys Priestland who raced the whole length of the pitch, tailed by Warwick and Doug Howlett, to score an unconverted try in the corner.

Munster recovered quickly and launched a fierce offensive that ended with de Villiers diving over near the posts, Warwick converting the sixth minute try. Munster may have been encouraged but not inspired by that score and they had some anxious moments in the remaining minutes of a less-than-sparkling first half punctuated by many mistakes on both sides.

After all the early activity and those two quick tries, the next score came via the boot of Priestland with a 38th minute 45-metre penalty to edge his side a point in front but when Deacan Manu stupidly held back Nick Williams off the ball, the yellow card offence cost his side the lead, with Warwick knocking over the penalty from close range.

It got worse for the visitors when Munster launched an offensive off a scrum from half way and James Coughlan grabbed the second try after several passages of play. Warwick converted to push the score out to 17-8.

The Scarlets did strike first in the second half with another Priestland penalty just as Manu returned to boost the numbers and after Warwick restored Munster’s nine-point lead with a penalty, Priestland instantly responded to close the lead to six.

But Warwick pushed Munster back into the safety zone in the 65th minute with another penalty for a 23-14 lead.

From there they looked more comfortable, playing down the clock with a degree of accuracy and control from the pack allied to some measured line kicking from Warwick and one absolute boomer from Deasy.

However, in one late assault the visitors did salvage something from the game when Priestland kicked a penalty after Munster substitute Tommy O’Donnell was shown a yellow card, leaving the home side sweating for the last two minutes.

MUNSTER: S Deasy; D Howlett, T Gleeson, J de Villiers, I Dowling; P Warwick, P Stringer; M Horan, D Varley, J Brugnaut; B Holland, M O’Driscoll (capt); N Williams, J Coughlan, N Ronan.

Replacements: D Hurley for Howlett (53), D Fogarty for Varley, D Ryan for Brugnaut (both 62), D Williams for Stringer, A Quinlan for Williams (both 66), T O’Donnell for Ronan (73), J Manning for Williams (79, injured).

LLANELLI SCARLETS: D Newton; J Ajuwa, R King, J Davies, A Fenby; R Priestland, T Knoyle; I Thomas, K Owens, D Manu; L Reed, D Day; J Turnbull, D Lyons (capt), R Pugh.

Replacements: D Evans for Newton (53), R McCusker for Pugh (63), G Maule for King, D Welch for Day (both 67), P John for Thomas, M Roberts for Knoyle (both 71).

Referee: N Paterson (Scotland).

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