Nerveless teenager Jeremy Manning became an instant hero on Friday night as he kicked the match-winning penalty in Munster's 9-7 defeat of Border Reivers.
CELTIC LEAGUE: Friday, September 2
Munster 9 Border Reivers 7, Thomond Park (Att: 3,500)
Scorers: Munster: Pens: Paul Burke 2, Jeremy Manning
Reivers: Try: Gregor Townsend; Con: Charlie Hore
UCC youngster Manning, 19, came on as a replacement for fly-half Paul Burke an hour into what proved to be a disappointing Celtic League opener at Thomond Park, and was crucially successful with his first kick on anger. Burke had earlier landed two penalties.
Coach Declan Kidney's competitive return to the Munster fold was not a wholly triumphant one however, as the province, boasting nine Ireland internationals and new signings Trevor Halstead and Federico Pucciariello from the kick-off, went try-less and failed to nail down the sticky Scots.
Steve Bates' Reivers were fully deserving of their losing bonus point and on reflection, had enough chances to steal what would have been their first away win in four years' of Celtic competition. Centre Charlie Hore missed two very kickable penalties and only a forward pass prevented them from nabbing a try in the first quarter.
For Munster, the first half was a tale of forward passes and knock-ons with a distinct back-to-school feel to proceedings. Ireland flanker David Wallace made a notable impression with ball-in-hand off the right wing, but it was only in the final minutes that the try line beckoned Kidney's men.
It was a strange affair given the fact that these sides had shared out over fifty points in their last two league meetings. It was a full 34 minutes before Scotland's record cap holder Gregor Townsend, back with Borders in a player-coach capacity, dummied and sliced through a sleepy Munster defence to touch down between the posts.
Townsend's half-back partner Chris Cusiter, back early from Lions duty, provided the try-scoring pass and Hore topped the score off with the conversion.
Munster hit back immediately with Burke's first penalty, but were held up twice over the Scots' line late in the half as Bates' men led 7-3 at the break.
Munster skipper Anthony Foley, in his 142nd appearance in red, twice turned down simple penalties in favour of lineouts late in the first half. And why wouldn't he - Mick O'Driscoll, back from Perpignan, and recent Ireland cap Trevor Hogan were very secure at the set-piece, and a restart gather by the former laid the platform for Burke's second penalty, early on in the second half.
The Reivers infringed on the deck and Burke thumped over the kick, teeing Munster up for a strong closing half-hour. Even with Ireland coach Eddie O'Sullivan in attendance, the province couldn't rouse themselves in attack.
The effort was there, but the basics were not coming off. Halstead and his centre partner Rob Henderson, looking fit and sharp, worked well as a tandem, taking turns on crash balls, but it wasn't until Manning came on and the game became a little looser that Munster looked in command.
Hore missed another penalty sitter at 7-6 in front, Burke then missed a lengthy chance, but former New Zealand school number 10 Manning made amends on 64 minutes.
He also threw in two subsequent dummies that had man-of-the-match Denis Leamy inching towards the line. Manning did catch the eye with those flashes, but a dropped ball from Henderson almost saw Reivers in for a match-stealing try at the death.
Munster did well to hold in a match which they should never have been in danger of losing, given Reivers' track record. Kidney knows there will be little margin for error when League champions the Ospreys visit Musgrave Park next Saturday (kick-off 6.00pm, live Setanta Sports).
MUNSTER: Shaun Payne; David Wallace, Trevor Halstead, Rob Henderson, John Kelly; Paul Burke (Jeremy Manning 62), Peter Stringer; Marcus Horan, Jerry Flannery (Frank Sheahan 50), Federico Pucciariello; Trevor Hogan, Mick O'Driscoll; Stephen Keogh (Alan Quinlan 50), Denis Leamy, Anthony Foley (Capt).
BORDERS: Stuart Moffat; Simon Danielli, Ben MacDougall, Charlie Hore, Garry Law; Gregor Townsend, Chris Cusiter; Paul Thomson (Capt), Ross Ford, Bruce Douglas, Opeta Palepoi, Colin Stewart, Wayne McEntee, Scott Gray, Kelly Brown.
Referee: Tim Hayes (Wales)