Munster edge past Edinburgh to qualify for Guinness Pro14 semi-final against Leinster

Munster Rugby 20 Edinburgh Rugby 16

Johann van Graan’s Munster side has qualified for the Guinness Pro14 semi-finals with a narrow 20-16 victory over a dogged Edinburgh side at Thomond Park this afternoon. In what was Simon Zebo’s final home game at the Limerick venue prior to his move to Racing 92 in France’s Top 14 next season, the Cork man was instrumental in Keith Earls’ second half try, a score which came at a crucial time for the southern province.

A disappointing first half for the home side saw Edinburgh dominate on the field in terms of possession and territory despite the fact that Munster finished the opening 40 minutes 7-6 ahead on the scoreboard.

The Munster back three of Zebo, Andrew Conway and Keith Earls were untidy and unsettled in the opening moments of this Guinness Pro14 Semi-Final Qualifier as they made mistake after mistake allowing Richard Cockerill’s side remain on the front foot.

The South African coach’s side opened the scoring eight minutes in when hooker Rhys Marshall gained possession of the ball from an Edinburgh lineout. Scotland International Stuart McInally overthrew to the back of his side’s lineout, allowing the powerful New Zealander use his upper body strength to power over the line and touch down for the only try of the first half. JJ Hanrahan, who played a significant role in last Saturday’s Guinness Pro14 game against Ulster Rugby at the same venue, added the conversion to give the home team a 7-0 lead.

This would be Munster’s last score of the first period as two Sam Hidalgo-Clyne penalties –  both conceded by Munster front row James Cronin – kept his side in the game and narrowed the gap to a solitary point at the half-time interval.

Munster prop Stephen Archer went down early in the game, and though he initially played on, was later replaced by Ciarán Parker, who held his own in the scrum. In fact Parker’s first scrum after his introduction saw referee Nigel Owens of Wales award the Irish side a penalty. Munster captain Peter O’Mahony gave the signal for Currow’s JJ Hanrahan to kick for the posts. Despite the very kickable position of the penalty, the Kerry man sent the ball right and wide of the posts – he had the distance, but not the accuracy.

In a mid air collision when Andrew Conway and Blair Kinghorn went for the ball, the Dubliner came off the worse. On Conway hitting the ground, Kinghorn accidently made contact with him, coming down on top of the Munster player. The winger received medical treatment before standing up and leaving the field for an HIA, to be replaced by Darren Sweetnam. Despite coming back on before the half time whistle, the replacement was made permanent at the start of the second 40 minute period.

Within minutes of the restart, a kick through from the soon to depart Simon Zebo, was followed up by him and the Cork player collected his own kick before delivering an impressively long pass out wide to the touchline to Keith Earls who scored in the corner. A JJ Hanrahan two-point conversion saw Johann van Graan’s side move into a 14-6 ahead. Hanrahan’s first successful penalty kick on 52 minutes extended the lead to 11 points.

Despite the better attitude and increased pressure from Munster in the second period, the next few scores actually came from the visitors. Peter O’Mahony was penalised by Nigel Owens for having hands on the ball at the bottom of the ruck, despite the claims of innocence by the skipper. The easy penalty opportunity was gladly taken by Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, who would be replaced after scoring by Nathan Fowles.

Fowles had an immediate impact on the game when only minutes on the field he burst through the poor Munster defensive effort and was given may too much space to cross the line for his side’s first five-pointer of the game. Jaco van der Wait scored the conversion to narrow the gap to a solitary point with twenty minutes to play: Munster 17 Edinburgh 16.

The decisive score of the game came when Edinburgh were found to be illegally stopping Munster’s rolling maul. With no advantaged accruing to the home side, the referee returned for the penalty kick effort which Hanrahan successfully sent between the uprights from a few paces inside the 10m line. His fourth score of the afternoon, the final one of the game, put his side four points ahead, and into a Guinness Pro14 Semi-Final against provincial rivals and Champions Cup finalists Leinster Rugby at the RDS on Saturday 19th May.

Final score: Munster Rugby 20 Edinburgh Rugby 16

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