Munster 17 Scarlets 6
Onwards and ever so slightly upwards for Munster as they continued their winning build-up to next Saturday’s European opener with a straightforward Guinness Pro12 victory over Welsh opposition at Thomond Park last night.
With just one try on the ledger, a first-half score from Australian new boy Andrew Smith, this was a far from free-flowing performance from Anthony Foley’s team ahead of the trip to Sale Sharks next weekend. However, that was not all the home side’s fault as the game was riddled with poor refereeing decisions from Claudio Blessano.
What was to Munster’s credit, though, was a continuation of that winning feeling revived in Dublin a week ago and a further step away from that horror show at home to Ospreys a fortnight ago. And after a second half against Leinster that featured four players in the sin bin there wasn’t even a card in sight.
The message remained clear from head coach Foley that there would be no backward steps from the high reached in last Saturday night’s win against Leinster.
Naming captain Peter O’Mahony in the back row for the first time since April having come through his 16-minute return to action off the bench in Dublin certainly gave Munster additional impetus.
Yet it was Scarlets who opened the scoring, courtesy of a Rhys Priestland drop goal, taken with the advantage, from 40 metres out.
JJ Hanrahan had a chance to respond almost immediately with a penalty from close to the left touchline but missed the target and Munster were further frustrated, echoed by the majority of the crowd, by a series of refereeing decisions that the under pressure Scarlets gratefully accepted.
Signor Blessano’s handling of this game continued to annoy the home supporters, their ire only eased by Priestland’s profligacy off the tee.
Even when the Wales fly-half missed his second penalty of the first half, the Italian official gave him a second bite, harshly penalising Hanrahan for not rolling away when the Kerryman appeared to be doing exactly that.
O’Mahony made an impassioned case for the defence but, as is always the case, it fell on deaf ears and Priestland slotted home with the final score of the period.
Fortunately for Foley, Munster had found other means to make headway. Hanrahan had levelled at 3-3 with a 21st-minute penalty and with that his team build up some steam.
Lock Dave Foley stole a lineout just inside the Scarlets half and the Reds rumbled into gear, no doubt delighting the coaching staff ahead of next week’s visit to Sale with some excellent ball retention.
Munster rolled through 25 phases, including some clever interplay between Conor Murray and Simon Zebo around the fringes, before sending the ball out wide to Smith, the centre rounding the last man to score.
Hanrahan missed the conversion before Priestland closed out the half with that penalty to send the teams in for the break with Munster ahead 8-6.
Six minutes into the second half and Munster had built an eight-point lead thanks Hanrahan landing two of three successive penalties from close-range, left of the posts. He added another on the hour after Munster’s forwards, with front-row replacements Eusebio Guinazu and James Cronin fresh on, won a scrum penalty on a Scarlets put-in.
They got their reward with a three-pointer that opened the lead to 17-6 and killed the game off for the visitors.
Munster went in search of the tries their dominance deserved but were twice denied by TMO Seamus Flannery, who ruled out scores for Cronin and Johne Murphy.
Yet what Munster lacked in tries, their control of this game will represent another inch or two along the road for the Foley regime and give the head coach plenty to work with this week.
Munster scorers: Tries: Smith. Pens: Hanrahan 4.
MUNSTER: J Murphy, G van den Heever, A Smith, I Dineen, Simon Zebo; JJ Hanrahan (I Keatley, 64), C Murray (D Williams, 71); D Kilcoyne (J Cronin, 51), K O’Byrne (E Guinazu, 51), BJ Botha (S Archer, 74); D Foley (D O’Callaghan, 74), B Holland; P O’Mahony – captain (R Copeland, 64), T O’Donnell, CJ Stander.
Scarlets scorers: Pens: Priestland. Drop Goals: Priestland.
SCARLETS: L Williams; H Robinson, G Owen (M Tagicakibau, 22), S Williams — captain, K Phillips; R Priestland (S Shingler, 73), A Davies (R Williams, 68); P John (R Evans, 49), K Myhill (E Phillips, 49), R Jones (S Lee, 49); J Ball, J Snyman (G Earle, 53); A Shingler, J Barclay (J Davies, 66), R Pitman.
Referee: Claudio Blessano (Italy)
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