Munster dig deep again

FROM the high of a memorable victory over Australia, it was back to the bread and butter of the Magners League for Munster at Musgrave Park last night - but in many respects, this result was just as satisfying.

The win over the Scarlets was more difficult, but in the improved weather conditions Munster turned on the heat to outscore the visitors three tries to two and then survived a vigorous late challenge to stretch their lead at the top of the Magners table.

The game was a personal triumph for centre Barry Murphy whose solid work and spectacular try deservedly earned him the man of the match award, but this was more about a team effort than the contribution of any one individual.

Munster had to be good to cope with a quality Scarlets side that signalled their intent from the very early stages with strong running and good support play that forced the very best out of the home defence.

Crucially, Munster seized the initiative with two tries and a 14-point salvo in the space of three minutes early in the second half at a time when their numbers were actually reduced to 14 with flanker Peter O’Mahony in the sin bin.

That spell proved to be Scarlets’ undoing and coach Tony McGahan was delighted afterwards, highlighting the fact that most teams concede points when reduced in numbers.

“The players applied themselves very well because it was tough. The Scarlets proved to be a very dangerous side, which reflects their position in the table; we’re absolutely ecstatic because we were under huge pressure when they had the ball but we scrambled well and probably gained a lot of confidence from Tuesday night. For this team to gather experience and gain a win at the same time was very pleasing.”

With Murphy playing his first full game in 14 months, McGahan had additional reasons to be cheerful. “It has been a very long time for him, he has been dying to get back in and show his wares and he took his try by running a great line and showing great pace.”

But McGahan was also tickled with the way James Coughlan, Billy Holland, Ian Nagle and O’Mahony knuckled down to the grind; indeed, he must have been delighted with the pack as a whole – subs included – for snuffing out the Llanelli challenge with superb ball retention and protection in the closing moments as Munster hung grimly to their narrow lead.

Try scoring chances were few and far between, even if the opening half was a lively affair. Llanelli had the better of the early exchanges but scorned chances until Rhys Priestland kicked a 17th minute penalty. Paul Warwick equalised and put Munster in front before the Scarlets fly-half brought the sides level again.

Munster’s growing influence on the game helped them secure the opening try of the game on 35 minutes from Warwick, who also converted, but the visitors surged back into contention when Priestland set up a try for captain Jonathan Edwards and kicked the conversion to leave the sides level 13-13 at the interval.

The see-saw balance continued in the early stages of the second half with Llanelli taking the lead from a Priestland penalty after O’Mahony was binned for hauling down a maul. But even with 14 men, Munster showed their true potential when they scored those two brilliant tries.

Both came from rehearsed moves. First, Doug Howlett’s inside pass found Sam Tuitupou, who powered over for a try which Warwick converted. Then it was the Australian’s turn to create – he set Murphy free and the centre scored close in to leave his kicker secure the extra points for a 27-16 lead. Credit Scarlets though, who responded admirably with a second try from Edwards and the subsequent conversion from Priestland cut the lead to four.

Munster had to live on their nerves for spells after that, especially when Priestland made it a one-point game with a 69th minute penalty.

However, the pack dug deep and kept possession for long periods inside the Scarlets’ half, even though the visitors had one breakaway chance that ended with a brilliant cover tackle on Morgan Stoddard by Denis Hurley.

nDuncan Williams is likely to miss Munster’s next game against the Dragons after damaging an ankle in last night’s game. He is to have a medical examination today.

MUNSTER: S. Deasy; D. Howlett (capt), B. Murphy, S. Tuitupou, D. Hurley; P. Warwick, D. Williams; W. du Preez, M. Sherry, P. Borlase; B. Holland, I. Nagle; P. O’Mahony, J. Coughlan, N. Ronan.

Replacements: C. Murray for Williams (inj, 22), T. O’Donnell for O’Mahony (60), D. Ryan for Du Preez (69), S. Henry for Sherry, S. Archer for Borlase and T. Gleeson for Deasy (all 82)

SCARLETS: D. Evans; M. Stoddart, G. Maule, R. King, L. Williams; R. Priestland, M. Roberts; I. Thomas, K. Owens, P. Edwards; L. Reed, D. Day; A. Shingler, B. Morgan, J. Edwards (capt).

Replacements: N. Reynolds for Williams (inj., 17), P. John for Edwards, J. Fa’amatuainu for Shingler (both 54), T. Knoyle for Roberts, E. Phillips for Owens, D. Welch for Day (63), D. Newtop for Priestland, S. Gardner for John (both 82).

Referee: J. Jones (Wales).

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