Munster A came miraculously from behind to fashion a brilliant victory in last night’s pulsating B&I Cup final against Jersey Reds at Musgrave Park.
A late penalty goal from David Johnston dragged Munster through this magnificent tie, but it really wasn’t about that score, but more about the ability of his side to respond after falling behind by 18 points inside the opening 15 minutes against a dogged Jersey side.
However, if class was there in abundance from the visitors in the opening spell, there was even more of that on display from this Cian Bohane-captained side. It was a tough evening at the office from start to finish, but Munster displayed the character to see them home for a second victory in this competition, the first since 2012.
If there is a message for Munster in the European semi final against Saracens this afternoon, it will surely be for them to follow suit in such determined fashion.
Munster had a horrible start to this game, conceding a try inside two minutes when Jersey winger Nick Scott was sent away by fullback Ross Adair for an unconverted score. Callum Sheedy added penalties in the sixth and ninth minutes to give the visitors a huge boost of an 11-0 lead.
It got worse after 15 minutes, when Jersey hooker Joe Buckle won possession off a line-out and scorched over for a try that Sheedy converted. That was all before Munster won any degree of possession, but a subsequent challenge amounted to nothing, on the basis of the home side making three crucial handling errors, and they were left to play catch-up with 18 unanswered points to attack.
It was hard, because the Reds forced the pace from a dominant pack and the home side really had little possession from which to launch their customary assaults. There were a couple of promising moments, most notably when Kevin O’Byrne pilfered a Jersey line-out and when Dan Goggin led a counter- attacking scoring opportunity.
However, again, there were mistakes when it mattered most and, as the game ticked over the 30 minute mark, there was nothing to show on the scoreboard for an increasingly frustrated Munster outfit, sometimes from some rather bizarre decisions by inexperienced English referee Craig Maxwell-Keys.
Fortunately, Munster grabbed a well-deserved try just before the interval. Gavin Coombes battered his way over, but that was the result of several forward thrusts. The try was converted by David Johnston, to bring Munster back from the brink and give them some hope, with the score at 18-7.
It looked more promising early in the second half, when O’Byrne got in for a Munster try that Johnston converted.
However, with just four points between the teams, Munster lost the plot momentarily and conceded a try to Jersey scrum-half Kieran Hardy, which Sheedy converted to make it 25-14.
The drama continued in the 51st minute, when Johnston nipped in at the corner to bring back the deficit to six points and he then nailed the conversion to another try — a brilliant effort from winger Alex Wootton — in the 57th minute for a lead of 26-25. That lasted just four minutes, after Sheedy kicked another penalty to secure a 28-26 lead, but Johnston struck back with 10 on the clock, to put Munster back in control and on course for that second title.
S Fitzgerald; D Goggin, S Arnold, C Bohane (captain), A Wootton; D Johnston, J Poland; P McCabe, K O’Byrne, B Scott; M Chisholm, D O’Shea; G Coombes, C Oliver, R Copeland.
L O’Connor for McCabe, R Burke for Scott (both 53), D Casey for O’Byrne (65), s O’Connor for Copeland (injured, 73). G O’Shea for Arnold (78).
R Adair; G Watkins, J Davies, A Ma’afu, N Scott; C Sheedy, K Hardy; J Woolmore, J Buckle, S Kerrod; J Voss, P Phillips; J Freeman (captain), G Graham, N Haining.
N Selway for Buckle (51), S McCarthy for Woolmore, U Kolo’ofa’I for Voss (54), J Armstrong for Kerrod (64), M Argyle for Graham (67), L Robling for Adair (71).
C Maxwell-Keys (England)