It was far from exhibition stuff but neither was it anything as objectionable as could be suggested by referee Alain Rolland brandishing one red and three yellow cards in the closing quarter of a competitive encounter.
The visitors’ former Ireland underage star James Sandford saw red for an alleged head-butt offence, while Peter Borlase (reacting), Niall Ronan and Damian Varley (technical) all followed him to the sideline, albeit for shorter 10-minute spells, leaving Munster to variously play 14 against 14 or 13 against 14.
They survived the absenteeism and, on balance, deserved their win to give coach Tony McGahan a feeling that things are getting better.
“It was a big step forward from the last two weeks,” said McGahan, “right across the board. The defence was a strong point of our game; it was a pretty full-strength London Irish side and our scrum and lineout was solid enough.”
Munster had the better of the opening quarter; unfortunately Ian Keatley missed an easy penalty after eight minutes and then the home side were denied a try when Doug Howlett was brushed into touch on the line by London Irish flanker Jamie Gibson.
Munster had their own share of defensive trauma subsequently and were fortunate to hold out without conceding after a five-minute London Irish blitz; the visitors were finally penalised on the Munster line for holding on. They paid for that in terms of relinquishing a later score, with Keatley knocking over a much more difficult 35th-minute penalty to finally break the stalemate.
Injuries played their part in that stop-start opening period, with Munster skipper Peter O’Mahony having to take refuge to recover from a head wound, and with colleague Ian Nagle also forced off, as was the impressive London Irish open side Gibson in the closing stages of the half.
The introduction of Peter Stringer appeared to make a difference to Munster in the early stages of the second half; certainly the pace of their attack improved and the scrum-half linked brilliantly with backs and forwards, as Stephen Archer and Mick O’Driscoll particularly, came into the game with ball in hand.
The visitors did have a scoring chance from full-back Tom Homer but his penalty attempt was off target. It didn’t get any better for him when he fluffed a chance to clear from Niall Ronan’s chip through and Sean Scanlon took full advantage to pick up and score the opening try after 58 minutes.
London Irish had their turn at picking and driving and forcing the pace, but pressure on the Munster line came to nothing between the 54th and 70th minutes, before a bust-up led to substitute Sandford getting a red card and Borlase a yellow.
A subsequent yellow for Ronan had Munster on the back foot, playing with just 13 men against 14, particularly after Adrian Jarvis cut the deficit to five with a penalty.
A pressure kick followed from Keatley, however, and with less than two minutes on the clock the out-half nailed the chance to push the lead back out to a safe 11-3.
Despite London Irish salvaging some pride with a late try from Richard Thorpe, converted by Jarvis, Munster held out.
MUNSTER: S Scanlon, D Howlett, D Barnes, L Mafi, D Hurley, I Keatley, D Williams, M Horan, M Sherry, S Archer, I Nagle, M O’Driscoll, B Holland, P O’Mahony, N Ronan.
Replacements: D Varley for Sherry, P Stringer for Williams (both 40), S Zebo for Barnes, Aavid O’Callgahan for Nagle, Du Preez for Horan (all 55), T O’Donnell for O’Mahony (59), S Deasy for Scanlon, P Borlase for Archer (both 64), T O’Donnell for O’Mahony (11-18), D O’Callaghan for Nagle (37-40).
LONDON IRISH: T Homer, T Ojo, J Joseph, D Bowden, M Yarde, A Jarvis, P Hodgson, M Lahiff, D Paice, F Tautenbach, K Roche, M Garvey, R Thorpe, A Gray, J Gibson.
Replacements: P Synott for Gibson (40), J Sandford for Synott, L Halavatau for Rautenbach (both 51), S Shingler for Homer, R Samson for Hodgson, M George for Lahiff (all 68), B Blaney for Paice, A Thompstone for Yarde (73), T Alexander for Garvey (76)
Referee: A Rolland (IRFU).