Munster 19 Scarlets 7
Munster Rugby was the only one of the Irish provinces to taste Guinness Pro14 success this weekend, when an improved second half performance from Johann van Graan’s side saw them defeat last year’s champions Scarlets at Thomond Park.
A disappointing opening period from the hosts, who lost to Edinburgh last weekend, saw Scarlets achieve over 90% territory and 80% possession. The Welsh side opened the scoring as early as the seventh minute through scrum half Aled Davies who was at the end of a move that saw Scarlets cut through the Munster defence. Welsh international Rhys Patchell added the extras for a 7-0 lead and what would be their final score of this Guinness Pro 14 Round 18 fixture.
As the Thomond Park attendance attempted to inspire their team, Munster got more into the game. A break from inside his own half in the 17th minute saw Alex Wootton race to the opposite end of the field, touching down under the posts. The Munster speedster must have sown a seed of doubt in referee Marius Mitrea’s mind about the legality of the try by initially hesitating to break, seemingly almost coming close to stopping. The Italian opted to consult his TMO – a practice he continued with all evening, much to the annoyance of the Thomond Park faithful – and it was decided not to allow the try, the TV footage showing the English-born Munsterman had knocked the ball on when in the process of gaining possession.
Ten minutes later, James Hart would eventually put Munster on the scoreboard when he stretched to touch down despite the best efforts of Steff Evans to deny him. Again the referee went to the TMO, but on this occasion the try was awarded. Ian Keatley missed the conversion attempt, pushing the ball left and wide the posts.
Rhys Patchell attempted a long penalty kick from the Munster 10m line but with the ball hitting the right hand upright and coming back into Munster’s possession, the sides left the field at the half-time interval on a score line of Munster 5 Scarlets 7.
Whatever Head Coach Johann van Graan and his team said at half time, it certainly worked. Munster were a different side in the second forty minute period and scored seven minutes after the restart.
Following a Munster lineout, effort after effort, including two from Tommy O’Donnell, failed to see the home side cross the try-scoring line before eventual Man of the Match – for the third time in four games – Robin Copeland took it upon himself to touch down left of the posts. This time Keatley’s conversion kick was perfect and the home side went into a 12-7 lead.
The busy TMO was yet again called into action by referee Mitrea when James Cronin looked to have scored Munster’s third try. From the back of a maul, James Hart brought the ball to the 5m line with Cronin crossing to score for a 17-7 score. The TMO decided it was a double movement, disallowing the try, and the scores staying at 12-7 to Munster.
Alex Wootton, denied earlier in the game by the TMO, saw the official side with him when he touched down for his side’s third and final try in the 77th minute, thus securing the points for Munster. Stephen Fitzgerald, who had come off the bench minutes four minutes previously when replacing fullback Calvin Nash and who impressed while on the field, send a long pass to Wootton on the left touchline allowing him charge over for the five-pointer. Ian Keatley added the extras for a final score line of Munster 19 Scarlets 7.
The southern province is now twelve points behind leaders Glasgow Warriors, but more importantly six points ahead of third-placed side Cheetahs in the Guinness Pro14 Conference A table. Munster Rugby has three games remaining in the Pro 14, two away in South Africa against Southern Kings and Toyota Cheetahs respectively, before hosting provincial rivals Ulster in Limerick at the end of April.
Tommy O’Donnell, who was replaced injured in the 48th minute of the game, went to hospital post match and is now likely to join Munster ever growing casualty list ahead of next Saturday’s crucial European Champions Cup game against French powerhouse Toulon in Thomond Park.