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.
Rob Penney’s side made it two wins out of two in the SEAT Series and the Munster boss will be hopeful his side can continue that winning run next Saturday when they host Edinburgh at the same venue in their first RaboDirect Pro12 game of the season.
It looked bleak for Munster when Donncha O’Callaghan was unluckily sinbinned as the game 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 home crowd.
London Irish struck first blood when Ian Humphreys punished a Munster offside to kick his side into an early three point lead.
Munster dominated possession and territory for the remainder of the 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 the ball was recycled quickly with Ian Keatley kicking into the corner for O’Mahony to chase but the kick was just too strong.
There was early pressure on the London Irish line-out after another pinpoint kick from Keatley but they managed to clear through Humphreys despite pressure from Cathal Sheridan.
Denis Hurley sliced through the London Irish defence and popped it to Sean Dougall but his attempted pass to O’Mahony was just behind the winger, more promising play but the final pass was just lacking.
Cian Bohane wasn’t 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 but 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 yard line. But the pressure was soon back on as Bohane fed Sean Dougall in midfield and the back-row forward burst through two tackles before eventually being halted.
Munster finally got on the scoreboard after London Irish hooker David 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 up the scoreline at 3-3 with only two minutes remaining in the half.
And Munster nearly took the lead moments later when London Irish left winger Marland Yarde knocked on with Bohane capitalising to launch a thrilling counter attack that ended when Ian Humphreys managed to drag down O’Mahony inside the visitor’s 22.
The Exiles came out for the second half 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 Laulala showed superb hands to put O’Mahony in for his first try of the night 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, but Munster came fighting back again and Niall Ronan was held up after another barnstorming run by O’Mahony.
Despite that setback, Munster weren’t to be denied and Hanrahan ducked and dived through the London Irish defence before just about touching down to level the scores in the 72nd minute. And the same player held his nerve with a conversion to put Munster two points ahead with only seven minutes on the clock.
The win 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 his second try of the night.
Worryingly for Rob Penney, BJ Botha limped off late in the game 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.
Penney commenting on Botha's knee injury – "All signs are it will be more than a month, we'll assess it over the next 48 hours."
Referee: David Wilkinson
Munster: Denis Hurley (Rory Scannell 75); Ronan O’Mahony, Casey Laulala, Cian Bohane, Johne Murphy (Johnny Holland 70); Ian Keatley (JJ Hanrahan 50), Cathal Sheridan (Duncan Williams 44), John Ryan (James Cronin H/T), Damien Varley Capt. (Mike Sherry 50), Stephen Archer (BJ Botha H/T); Dave Foley (Donncha O'Callaghan H/T), Ian Nagle (Billy Holland 50); Dave O’Callaghan (CJ Stander 55), Sean Dougall (Niall Ronan 50), Paddy Butler (James Coughlan H/T).