Munster ‘A’ got their British & Irish Cup campaign back on track with a 16-12 win over Bedford Blues this afternoon, defeating the English Championship side at Goldington Road thanks to a Ciaran Parker try and the boot of Bill Johnston.
In a much-improved performance compared to last week's 25-14 home defeat, the Peter Malone-coached side showed impressive defensive form to keep Bedford, their main rivals in Pool 1, scoreless for 50 minutes.
The result has Munster 'A' back on course to qualify for the knockout stages of the cross-border competition, with Bedford's lead at the summit cut to two points with two rounds remaining. The province, who had accumulated 13 points so far, visit Nottingham (5 points) next up before hosting the bottom-placed Ospreys PS in the final round.
There was a late change before kick-off in Bedford with replacement scrum half John Poland, who has impressed in the colours of UCC this season, taking the starting place of James Hart.
Munster 'A' got off to the ideal start with an opening Bill Johnston penalty in the third minute, following a maul infringement. A period of pressure in the hosts' 22 saw prop Ciaran Parker touch down five metres later, following a series of pick-and-go attempts. With Johnston adding the conversion, the men in red led 10-0.
Expecting a reaction, the Blues did fight back and pressed hard in looking to get on the scoreboard, however Munster's defensive line speed was consistent and quick and the hosts got no change from a couple of penalties and a concerted 11-phase attack.
Munster 'A' missed out on a second try in the 21st minute when they built through the phases and created a two-on-one out wide, only for winger Stephen Fitzgerald to spill the ball with a clear run ahead of him.
However, Malone's charges continued to control territory and had the lion's share of possession, with the forwards also drawing encouragement from a scrum penalty on the half hour mark. Their defence also had the measure of the Bedford attack, foiling a late lineout maul before half-time that had the Blues very close to scoring.
The final 40 minutes started in similar fashion to the first for Munster 'A'. Number 8 Robin Copeland led the charge with a mazy run from the restart, and with further ground gained by his team-mates and Bedford caught offside, Johnston landed a 47th minute penalty to make it 13-0.
The visitors continued to look dangerous with ball in hand and probe for openings. Flanker Gavin Coombes made a terrific break, tearing down the right wing before linking with Poland but unfortunately the ball slipped from the scrum half's grasp and a gilt-edged scoring opportunity was lost.
Bedford forced their way over for a try soon after, pressing through their forwards, who included former Leinster prop Sean McCarthy, before the ball was spread wide for winger Dean Adamson to dance over and close the gap to 13-5.
The 20-year-old Johnston continued to punish the Blues' indiscipline, right-footing another penalty through the posts with 61 minutes on the clock. The final quarter saw Munster 'A' remain on the front foot until a bout of Bedford pressure and a couple of collapsed mauls saw Evan Mintern sin-binned.
The visitors managed to disrupt a further drive from the home pack, but Bedford did net a losing bonus point in injury-time when replacement prop Camilo Parilli-Ocampo burrowed over from close range and out-Will Hooley added the extras.
Referee: Elgan Williams (Wales)