Munster overcame the visiting Scarlets with a fine second half performance that earned the first win for an Irish side over a Welsh one in this year’s Celtic League.
It took a while for them to get their sea legs, but when they did, Munster played some fine rugby to earn a deserved win against the visiting Scarlets. It’s taken a while, but the Irish sides have now registered a win over Welsh opposition in the Celtic League.
Having surrendered their unbeaten record of six years in the corresponding fixture last year, there was a little payback added to the mix, along with the minor matter of a first win in the competition.
The early stages were dominated by the team in red, which unusually at Thomond, wasn’t Munster. Munster struggled to get hands on possession early on, and with Llanelli playing for territory, most of the first fifteen minutes were spent in Munster’s half. Munster’s defence was mean enough though and scoring chances were few. Indeed, the first fell to Ronan O’Gara, but his 38m penalty from in front of the posts was dragged left.
Munster began to get some possession and continuity, though, ending with Cullen being tackled in the corner by Andy Powell. In his previous incarnation, the fullback might have made it around him, but in fairness to him, space was tight and it was off a standing start.
This was the prelude to a period of Munster dominance, with their continuity coming together. A fluent backline movement ended with Kelly kicking ahead dangerously and when the covering Powell failed to pick up, there was a sniff of a chance. But Foley’s kick over the goal line ended up in a 22 drop-out.
A fine defensive catch from Garan Evans denied Anthony Foley from a useful O’Gara crosskick but from the resultant kick to touch came the first score. The Munster rolling maul was a powerful tool throughout and on this occasion they mauled with control and power from just inside the Llanelli ten metre line. On and on it rumbled until they crashed over the line with Alan Quinlan’s smile the biggest of them all. O’Gara’s strike for the extra points was poor, but Munster were ahead 5-0 on 27 minutes.
It appeared to get better three minutes later when Llanelli loosehead John Davies was sinbinned for what appeared to be driving early. It was a very harsh call, as Davies paid the price of generally messy scrums. Perhaps spurred by a sense of injustice, Llanelli picked up their game and bossed the ten minute period in which tempers, raised initially by an unpunished stamping incident ten minutes previously, were raised a notch.
A penalty against Quinlan for not rolling away was converted off the crossbar by Bowen to reduce the gap to two at 5-3. Indeed, Bowen was to miss a further penalty effort before Davies returned just before the interval.
The prop was walking a fine line when, early in the second half, he was reprimanded for punching on the touch judge’s recommendation. But what really got the crowd’s dander up was Powell’s high swinging arm on Paul O’Connell in midfield two minutes later. It was Powell’s good fortune that the referee missed his number.
But the real penalty was that Munster, propelled forward by the crowd’s fury, attacked with a bit of divil and after some quick recycling and a good burst from Foley, Horgan hit a delicious line to scythe through down the right before offloading in the tackle on the line for Cullen to score. O’Gara’s convert stretched Munster out to 12-3.
With the wet conditions militating against slick handling there were quite a few errors. O’Gara, whose punting was a little rusty in the first half started to nudge Munster forward better in the second. Despite some mixed throwing from Sheahan, the Munster lineout secured better possession than Llanelli’s, but the real difference came when Munster upped the tempo in the second half. Their greater ability to produce quick ball enabled them to carry the more potent threat.
It was quick movement out of contact off first Mullins, then Cullen, then Kelly darting runs that ended with Stringer feeding the again impressive Leamy to dive over in the right corner. O’Gara’s magnificent convert left the score at 19-3 on 66 minutes and Munster breathing pretty easy.
But Llanelli showed themselves a doughty lot. A Selley midfield break was soon followed by a good break and pass from Phillips to a flying Garan Evans who made it to the corner to reduce the score to 19-8, Bowen failing with the conversion.
A last minute try from the big scrumhalf Philips, now on the wing, completed the scoring, leaving Munster 19-13 winners and looking forward to more match practice and the challenges that lie ahead.