Ronan O’Mahony scored a superb hat-trick as Munster produced a stirring comeback to beat a strong London Irish side 27-13 and win back the Jack Wakefield Memorial trophy at Musgrave Park.
PRE-SEASON FRIENDLY: Friday, August 30
MUNSTER 27 LONDON IRISH 13, Musgrave Park
Scorers: Munster: Tries: Ronan O’Mahony 3, JJ Hanrahan; Cons: JJ Hanrahan 2; Pen: Ian Keatley
London Irish: Try: Gerard Ellis; Con: Ian Humphreys; Pens: Ian Humphreys 2
Rob Penney’s Munster side made it two wins out of two in the SEAT Series and they will be hopeful of continuing that winning run next Saturday when they host Edinburgh at the same venue in their first RaboDirect PRO12 game.
It looked bleak for Munster when Donncha O’Callaghan was unfortunately sin-binned as the pre-season clash nudged towards the final 15 minutes.
The scoreline at that stage was 13-8 to the visitors but three late tries gave Munster a deserved win in front of a delighted 6,340-strong crowd.
London Irish struck first when Ian Humphreys, who paired up with former Munster man Tomás O’Leary at half-back, punished a Munster offside to kick his side into an early three-point lead.
Munster dominated possession and territory for the remainder of the opening half but were unable to breach a tenacious Irish defence.
Ian Keatley turned down numerous opportunities to kick his side level as Munster determinedly looked for a seven-pointer.
They were agonisingly close in the tenth minute when Paddy Butler took the ball into contact and possession was recycled quickly with Keatley kicking into the corner for Ronan O’Mahony to chase but the kick was just too strong.
There was early pressure on the London Irish lineout after another precise kick from Keatley, but they managed to clear through Humphreys despite pressure from speedy scrum half Cathal Sheridan.
Denis Hurley sliced through the London Irish defence and popped it to Sean Dougall but the flanker’s attempted pass to O’Mahony was just behind the winger – another case of the final pass letting the province down.
Cian Bohane was not to be outdone by Keatley in the kicking stakes and in the 22nd minute the young centre launched a mammoth kick that bounced just short of the Irish line. However, hooker David Paice’s throwing was accurate under pressure and the danger was cleared.
London Irish finally got out of their own half with the half hour approaching as Humphreys kicked a penalty into touch on the Munster 10-metre line.
The pressure was soon back on the visitors though as Bohane fed Sean Dougall in midfield and the flame-haired forward burst through two tackles before eventually being halted.
Munster finally got on the scoreboard after Paice was sent to the sin-bin for another infringement at the breakdown. This time Keatley opted to take the points and his well-struck penalty levelled things just before the break.
Munster nearly took the lead moments later when London Irish winger Marland Yarde knocked on with Bohane capitalising to launch a thrilling counter attack that ended when Humphreys managed to drag down O’Mahony inside the visitors’ 22.
The Exiles came out for the second period showing much more attacking intent and made it 6-3 within seven minutes of the restart after more Munster indiscipline at the breakdown, with Humphreys on target once again.
And minutes later they increased the lead when former Leinster centre Eamonn Sheridan broke through the Munster defence and popped to Andrew Fenby who was brought down by a last-gasp tackle, but Gerard Ellis was on hand to score the game’s first try with Humphreys easily converting to make it 13-3.
The Munster reply was immediate and after a rolling maul from a lineout on the left, the ball was worked over to the right side and Casey Laulala showed terrific hands to put O’Mahony in for his first try in the corner. JJ Hanrahan’s conversion drifted just left as the gap remained at five points.
Then came the O’Callaghan sin-binning and it looked like the visitors were going to regain control, yet Munster came fighting back again and Niall Ronan was held up after another barnstorming run by O’Mahony.
Despite that setback, Munster were not to be denied and Hanrahan ducked and dived through the London Irish defence before just about touching down to tie the game in the 72nd minute.
The Kerry youngster then held his nerve with a conversion to put Munster two points ahead with only seven minutes left on the clock.
The victory was sealed late on when Munster had a penalty advantage but instead of knocking the ball out and taking the three points, Hanrahan showed great vision to spot the overlap on the right wing and he chipped the perfect ball for O’Mahony to touch down.
Worryingly for the Munster management, BJ Botha limped off late in the match but there was a happy ending for the home side as O’Mahony completed his hat-trick with Hanrahan converting to seal the win in style.
Commenting on Botha’s knee injury afterwards, Penney said: “All the signs are it will be more than a month, we’ll assess it over the next 48 hours.”
MUNSTER: Denis Hurley; Ronan O’Mahony, Casey Laulala, Cian Bohane, Johne Murphy; Ian Keatley, Cathal Sheridan; John Ryan, Damien Varley (capt), Stephen Archer, David Foley, Ian Nagle, David O’Callaghan, Sean Dougall, Paddy Butler.
Replacements used: James Cronin for Ryan, BJ Botha for Archer, Donncha O’Callaghan for Foley, James Coughlan for Butler (all half-time), Duncan Williams for Sheridan (44 mins), JJ Hanrahan for Keatley, Mike Sherry for Varley, Billy Holland for Nagle, CJ Stander for David O’Callaghan, Niall Ronan for Dougall (all 52), Rory Scannell for Hurley, Johnny Holland for Murphy (both 70), Ryan for Botha (80).
LONDON IRISH: Topsy Ojo; Marland Yarde, Guy Armitage, Eamonn Sheridan, Andrew Fenby; Ian Humphreys, Tomás O’Leary; Leo Halavatau, David Paice, Halani Aulika, George Skivington (capt), Bryn Evans, Kieran Low, Ofisa Treviranus, Jon Fisher.
Replacements: Jimmy Stevens, Jonny Harris, Jamie Hagan, Nic Rouse, Jebb Sinclair, Declan Danaher, Patrick Phibbs, Shane Geraghty, Myles Dorrian, Gerard Ellis, Chris Hala’ufia, Sailosi Tagicakibau, Ian Cross, Alex Lewington.
Referee: David Wilkinson (IRFU)