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Munster Nerve Holds

24th September 2005 By Munster Rugby

Munster Nerve Holds

Two second half penalties from Ronan O Gara added to a first half try from Alan Quinlan gave Munster a narrow nervous one point (14-13) Celtic League victory over Llanelli Scarlets at Musgrave Park

Two second half penalties from Ronan O Gara added to a first half try from Alan Quinlan gave Munster a narrow nervous one point (14-13) Celtic League victory over Llanelli Scarlets at Musgrave Park

Once again the Cork support turned up in numbers and while they weren t as vocal as last time, on the eve of the all Ireland hurling final, they turned up in numbers despite the counter-attraction – this time a cup soccer tie – around the corner at Turner’s Cross.

Munster gave everyone in the 4500 plus crowd heart palpitations – including the meagre Lllanelli following – as they left it early and late to claim victory. Even then they gave the visitors the opportunity to steal a victory that no-one could really have quibbled with.

Deep in injury time, and leading by that single point, Munster conceded a penalty – to a touch-judge decision – in an eminently kickable position but the Mike Hercus effort was going wide from the instant his foot caressed the ball.

Afterwards an obviously disappointed but nonetheless gracious Llanelli management agreed that the game was theirs for the taking. Yes a game we might have won, said coach Gareth Jenkins, you boys gave us the opportunity to do that but we didn t take it. That s the way it goes sometimes. That s not taking away from Munster s performance. They dug it out. Disappointed of course, hats off to Munster but have to give credit to our side.

Munster raced into an eight point lead thanks to an O Gara penalty and a try from Quinlan. The PA announcer credited debutant Ian Dowling with the score but video footage showed that the man from the Junction got downward pressure on O Gara s delicate chip through in the 14th minute. That aside, Dowling had an immense game and his Toyota Man of the Match award was fully merited.

Llanelli enjoyed the better of the early exchanges and despite the early sucker punches, were never going to lie down. With Simon Easterby reading the referee perfectly, Munster were spoiled of quality possession and the Scarlets were allowed back into the game.

Always looking likely when they spread the ball wide, they scored two tries to go 10-8 ahead and in injury time had the added bonus of a Hercus penalty to take a five point lead (13-8) into the break.

It really shouldn t have been so because in between scores Munster looked to have scored a perfectly good try when Frank Sheahan was shunted over from a trademark rolling maul off a lineout. Somehow referee Andy Ireland determined that Llanelli had gotten a body-part underneath ! Not that it mattered but very few others were convinced.

Rob Henderson was sent into the outside centre station after the break but it was Llanelli who set about the business of points harvest first. They dominated the third quarter, should have scored a try under the sticks and had they not been denied by Scotland s Ireland at that stage, the long road back for Munster might have had a turn too far.

To their credit, Munster set about the task of deliverance with dogged determination. Paul O Connell, outstanding the entire night, led the way. Besides his aerial exploits out of touch, he attacked the gain line with venom, while it had to be particularly heartening for Munster officials and supporters alike to see how newcomers Tomas O Leary and Ian Dowling acquitted themselves along with four cap ‘veteran’ Barry Murphy at full-back.

Llanelli certainly weren t helped when Adam Jones was yellow carded in the 64th minute but in fairness the Scarlets lock could have been sent to the bin much earlier for his dangerous ploy of dragging O Connell down at line-out time.

But then the most dramatic moment was reserved for the the final minutes. Munster allowed out of their 22, Trevor Halstead just got to the touchdown of a kick ahead and then Hercus had the opprtunity to snatch victory.

Munster: B Murphy; J Kelly, D Leamy (Henderson ht), T Halstead, I Dowling; R O’Gara, P Stringer; F Pucciariello (Horan 77min), F Sheahan, J Hayes; D O’Callaghan, P O’Connell (O’Driscoll 74 min); A Quinlan, D Wallace, A Foley capt.

Llanelli Scarlets: Lee Byrne; Dafydd James, Matthew J Watkins, Regan King; Tal Selley; Mike Hercus, Clive Stuart-Smith; Iestyn Thomas, Aled Gravelle, John Davies; Hotie Louw, Adam Jones; Simon Easterby capt, Jonathan Mills, Alix Popham.

Referee: Andy Ireland (SRU).

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