A Keith Earls hat-trick inside seven minutes during a six-try opening half helped Munster wrap up maximum points against a weak Edinburgh outfit in Cork last night.
It was a night of many positives for head coach Johann van Graan, who had enjoyed the luxury of a 34-7 half-time lead, with Andrew Conway contributing two tries from the opposite wing to Earls in what was an eight-try to two hammering. The Munster boss both successfully reintegrated his Ireland internationals and saw both Conor Murray and Chris Farrell come through their first games of the season after long-term injuries ahead of the next fortnight’s back-to-back Champions Cup games against French champions Castres.
Watched by Ireland boss Joe Schmidt, Munster blew their Scottish opponents away in front of a sell-out crowd at Musgrave Park to give themselves the perfect warm-up for the round three pool game in Limerick a week tomorrow.
Castres will be sure to offer more stubborn resistance as well as attacking threat next weekend for this was a pale imitation of the Edinburgh side that had pushed Munster close in last season’s PRO14 quarter-final play-off before going down 20-16.
Richard Cockerill fielded a side missing several first-teamers through injury or resting after Scotland’s internationals and there were also nine changes from the side that lost to the Dragons at Rodney Parade five days earlier.
It left them looking inexperienced in the pack, just 21 senior appearances spread across the second row and loose forwards and No.8 Luke Hamilton the most experienced of them winning his 10th cap and captaining the side.
Munster were the polar opposite, van Graan welcoming back a wealth of international experience following Ireland’s all-conquering Test window, with Peter O’Mahony captaining the side, last Saturday’s hat-trick hero Andrew Conway, Keith Earls, Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell, John Ryan and Tadhg Beirne all starting following the break-up of Irish camp.
It was scrum-half Murray who got his side quickly on the front foot, his excellent tactical kicking showing no sign of rust as he put pressure on the visitors with a probing chip into the right corner, O’Mahony’s pressure on left wing Duhan van der Merwe forcing Edinburgh into a clearing kick to touch from which Munster struck off the lineout.
The mismatch was quickly apparent as the ball was moved right to left by the home side, Ireland centre Farrell, coming back from a serious knee injury suffered last March, quickly made his presence felt, crashing over for the opening try in the fourth minute.
From there it was a procession. Conway quickly adding his fourth and fifth tries inside seven days following his hat-trick against the USA, his scores coming between 15 and 18 minutes, Hanrahan’s two conversions pushing van Graan’s side into a 19-0 lead as Edinburgh again failed to withstand Munster’s pressure game.
Perhaps it was all too easy because Munster momentarily switched off and allowed Edinburgh’s van der Merwe to waltz through their defences in the Scots’ first visit to the home 22, 20 minutes in, Jaco van der Walt converting.
It was a temporary lapse. Munster were quickly back in control from the restart and though the next score was 10 minutes in the making, the response was clinical as Earls claimed his hat-trick of tries in short order. Seven minutes was all it took as the left wing finished superbly from a variety of angles, first down the blindside of a lineout maul on the half-hour to bring up Munster’s try bonus point.
The pick of them came next, great hands and interplay sparked by Murray through Farrell, whose linebreak created space for Mike Haley to advance to the 22 before offloading to support runner Earls to complete an excellent, fluent and fast-paced attacking move as Munster went in 34-7 leaders at the break, Having created such a dominant position for themselves, the drop off in intensity after the break was perhaps inevitable with Munster happy to let Edinburgh control possession without posing too much of a threat.
After 20 minutes of stalemate, Earls nearly made it a fourth as he first broke down the left, exchanged passes with Murray and was tackled short of the line, with Farrell off the next phase crossing but held up.
Murray was switched to the right wing to see out the game and complete a full 80 minutes on his return. Which made him a distant spectator as replacement fly-half Tyler Bleyendaal pounced on the blindside from the five-metre scrum for Munster’s seventh try of the game.
Edinburgh had van der Merwe give them some second-half points with his second try of the night, converted by replacement fly-half Jason Baggott but Munster had the final say, with comeback man Farrell sealing a man of the match performance by finishing what he stared and grabbing his second and his side’s eighth try of the night.
Tries: Farrell 2, Conway 2, Earls 3, Bleyendaal. Cons: Hanrahan 2.
M Haley (T Bleyendaal, h-t); A Conway (D Williams, 63), C Farrell, R Scannell (S Arnold, 58), K Earls; JJ Hanrahan, C Murray; D Kilcoyne (J Loughman, 65), N Scannell (K O’Byrne, 60), J Ryan (C Parker, 65); T Beirne, B Holland (F Wycherley, 58); P O’Mahony - captain (G Coombes, 58), C Cloete, A Botha.
Tries: Van Der Merwe 2. Cons: Van Der Walt, Baggott.
D Fife; T Brown, G Taylor, J P Socino, D van der Merwe; J van der Walt (J Baggott, 59), N Fowles (S Kennedy, 15); R Sutherland (D Marfo, 59), D Cherry (R Ford, 59), M McCallum (P Ceccarelli, 46); J Hodgson (C Atkinson, 65) , C Hunter-Hill; A Miller, L Wynne (S Nayalo, 57), L Hamilton - captain.
Replacement not used:
Nigel Owens (Wales).
Ospreys 43 Zebre 0.