A very (early) good afternoon rugby fans. We’re in Thomond Park, shovelling down some pre match sandwiches before today’s final Heineken Cup Pool meeting with Edinburgh.
The table is set and Munster have the opportunity to help themselves to a home quarter final in April.
To do that, though, they must run in four tries and beat an Edinburgh side who are most certainly on an upward curve.
So, what do ye think will happen?
Right then, we still have a good half hour to go before the big kick off, so ample time to click into that big match preview link below, the three key battles we think will have a bearing on the outcome or simple pore over the two sets of 23 .
Munster: F Jones; K Earls, C Laulala, J Downey, J Murphy; I Keatley, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, D Varley, S Archer, D Foley, P O’Connell; P O’Mahony (c), T O’Donnell, J Coughlan.Replacements: D Casey, J Cronin, BJ Botha, Donncha O’Callaghan, P Butler, D Williams, JJ Hanrahan, S Zebo.
Edinburgh Rugby: J Cuthbert; D Fife, N De Luca, B Atiga, T Brown; G Tonks, G Laidlaw (c); A Dickinson, R Ford, W Nel, G Gilchrist, I Van Der Westhuizen; C Du Preez, R Grant, D Denton.
Replacements: A Lutui, L Blaauw, G Cross, O Atkins, T Leonardi, G Hart, C Bezuidenhout, J Dominguez.
Right, we’ve left the cosy confines and the coffee of the press room and we’re perched on the halfway line in a nippy Thomond Park.
So, a reminder then of how the quarter-final seedings look before we go into this clash:
Ulster are top on 26 points, they can’t be touched. Then the rest come as
Toulon 24 points (15 tries)
Toulouse 23 points (16 tries)
Leinster 22 points ( 16 tries)
Clermont 19 points (13 tries)
Munster 18 points (13 tries)
Leicester 21 points (16 tries)
Saracens 20 points (29 tries).
So, we can stare long and hard at all those figures but to cut a long story short; if Munster win and score four tries today they will displace Toulouse as third seeds.
Clermont could then knock Munster down to fourth, but we’ll worry about that closer to 3pm.
Right, now that that’s all cleared up we can concentrate on the game in front of us.
A roar has just erupted from the west stand as Peter O’Mahony and Paul O’Connell gathered their team into a huddle before circling round the posts on their way into the changing rooms.
Rugby grounds are famously difficult to liven up on a Sunday morning, but this sell-out crowd might just buck that trend.
Here comes Stand Up and Fight.
The crowd are in full voice alright, the teams are out, the people are roaring and Greig Tonks will kick us off.
Tonks goes deep and Munster return it with interest, but Johne Murphy is a little over eager and he takes Cuthbert out in the air.
Tonks drives the penalty into the corner. The visitors line-out looks smooth and they get it back to Tonks who attempts a crossfield kick to Tom Brown, but Felix Jones does enough to thwart him.
Ah, but we come back for a penalty for offside…. Oh, now then. Laidlaw has missed left.
No wind, no noise.
The visitors are recycling the ball very efficiently, keeping the crowd quiet until Casey Laulala wraps up Ben Atiga. The red jerseys arrive to force the choke and the turnover.
PENALTY: Munster 0 – 3 Edinburgh (Laidlaw 7)’
Wayne Barnes penalises Dave Kilcoyne for bringing down the scrum and this time Laidlaw does split the posts.
TRY! Munster 5 – 3 Edinburgh (Coughlan ’8)
The perfect response from Munster, quickly winning back the restart and getting front foot ball through the middle.
Keatley uses O’Connell as a dummy runner and instead picks out Murphy who feeds Coughlan and the number eight takes a gorgeous line inside the cover defender.
Keatly misses the conversion against the post.
That try has settled the hosts and the support into the game and after forcing a breakdown penalty on halfway we’re mired in a series of scrums inside the Edinburgh 22.
Ah, that’s a massive scrum from Kilcoyne, more than making up for his earlier penalty.
And, what’s this? A statement of real intent from Munster kicking for the corner rather than taking a fairly straightforward three.
The second attempt at the line-out is clean and Murray feeds O’Connell a carry, but he’s stopped. On we rumble…
Penalty for offside right in front of the posts and again O’Mahony calls for a set-piece. This time they’ll scrum it out.
Big moments these.
Kilcoyne has the measure of Willem Nel now. Free kick comes but Coughlan doesn’t fancy a quick tap, they’re packing down again… and it’s ANOTHER penalty.
TRY! Munster 12 – 3 Edinburgh (Murphy ’21)
The scrappiest scrum Munster have won so far, but Murray scrambles well and feeds Johne Murphy as he steps through the the black shirts and runs in under the posts.
Keatley slots the easy conversion. and O’Mahony’s decisions have been rewarded.
And back they come, Edinburgh have a brief respite in opposition territory, but Tommy O’Donnell comes galloping back at them and offloads to Conor Murray, but the turnover is forced and the visitors win a penalty on halfway.
Keith Earls is hobbling off, the wing took a nasty blow to the head and had his head taped up in the wake of that last phase.
Simon Zebo is in the game.
Credit Edinburgh, when they do have the ball they are recycling it well in the tackle. Attacking down the left Murphy is pinged for holding on and Laidlaw has another kickable chance.
PENALTY: Munster 12 – 6 Edinburgh
Obviously, Simon Zebo has come in to play on the left wing, Johne Murphy switches to the right.
The Lions wing’s first act is to take a blind hsoulder pass from Keatley, it’s a nice set move, but Roddy Grant has him watched all the way and the black shirts turn over on the following phase.
Edinburgh force a penalty at the scrum, they got a strong early hit on that time and Munster could only withstand for a few seconds before collapsing sharply.
The line-out gives a platform to attack inside the 22, but Kilcoyne and O’Donnell slow it all down attempting a choke tackle. .
Whoa, Edinburgh go lateral and stretch the red wall and make it to within five metres. Laidlaw thinks he has room to snipe for a score , but a combination of Zebo and O’Connell push him back an inch short.
Tonks knocks on on the next phase and Munster lead with five minutes left in the half.
The last series of scrums took over two minutes before a penalty allows Keatley bash the ball up 15 metres inside Edinburgh territory.
We’re playing kick tennis now with the seconds ticking down.
Wayne Barnes will check on a TMO decision for foul play before we go to the break.
Certainly looks like Roddy Grant is guilty of swinging an arm into a prone Munster player there….
It was Cornell du Preez was under the microscope for leading with his head and he is sent to the sin-bin with time up in the first half.
Munster will scrum on regardless.
HALF TIME: Munster 12 – 6 Edinburgh
The half ends with O’Connell knocking on 30 metres out and Laidlaw takes aim for touch.
So, Munster are halfway there; winning with two tries after 40 minutes. But this game is in danger of being ground to a halt by stoppages. if Munster can build some momentum, then this Edinburgh defence looks like it might just open right up.
The Scots have been decent when in possession, so Murray and Keatley must ensure they have chasers ready to go when they do opt to kick.
Here they come for the second half, Edinburgh have about eight minutes left on Du Preez’s sin-bin.
Keatley;s kick off goes 15 metres and it’s challenged, but Edinburgh clear their line.
I was talking about making sure kicks were worthwhile just before the second half started there. Well, just as Munster looked ot build some momentum down the left wing Laulala inexplicably attempted a crossfield kick and it ran dead behind the try line.
Not to worry Tommy O’Donneyll’s big break in midfield has led to
TRY! Munster 17 – 6 Edinburgh (Murray’ 43)
O’Donnell showed all his power in that break, only dragged down by a despairing tackle.
From there, the visitors were in scramble mode and once Munster had rumbled to within 5 Murray was able to dive toward the line
ONE TO GO!
Simon Zebo is unleashing some of that patented magic of his. First he takes the ball as first receiver and goes on a chip chase only to knock on. The next set of phases sees him spin out of a tackle on the left and deftly passes wide.
From there Edinburgh are pinned back and Munster show all their hunger to hunt them down and force them to concede a scrum v, but the penalty goes against the hosts.
BIG COLLISION as O’Connell is ‘helped’ into a carry by Varley and clatters into Gilchrist.
The momentum is sucked out of the game again though, this time it’s the fault of Keatley as he missed the connection on a grubber kick.
JJ Hanrahan is in the game, but for James Downey, not for Keatley. The young Kerryman takes up the out-half role with Keatley moving to the centre.
Felix Jones injects some pace into proceedings, and there is a suspicion of a deliberate knock on about Tom Brown’s effort to stop him scoring a try, but Munster have the line-out inside 10 metres.
TRY NUMBER FOUR! The Heineken Cup quarter-finals are coming to Thomond Park. (TMO pending)
TRY! Munster 26 – 6 Edinburgh (O’Mahony ’56)
The captain seals the result and the April fixture wil a strong carry that seemed to melt away the Edinburgh defenders once he got his legs pumping.
Keatley adds the extras.
So, job done with 20 minutes to go in Limerick. I’m off to ask Rob Penney if we can all clock off early.
It’s the end of Dave Kilcoyne’s (mostly positive) day as James Cronin comes on in time for an Edinburgh scrum, five metres out form their own try-line.
Fields of Athenry rings out and Munster get a huge push on and force the penalty.
We’re still scrummaging here, loosening up a lot of turf in the process. Barnesy wants to see another one even though the red pack looked to be on the march to try number five there.
TRY! Munster 31 – 6 Edinburgh (Simon Zebo ’65)
Zebo touches down after the ball finally comes out of the scrum and Murray flings left to the prolific winger to dot down an easy score.
Lovely moment there as both O’Connell and O’Mahony are withdrawn and Thomond PArk rises to salute them both.
The flanker has really assumed the role as a leader of this team this season and is growing ever more consistent and confident in his own game.
Ah, no! Wayne Barnes denies us a stunning try as Hanrahan breaks, feeds Murray who in turn offloads to BJ Botha who trundled over the line.
We come back for an Edinburgh penalty and they escape the champagne rugby.
The home side smell a sixth here. A little strange that Barnes hasn’t punished Edinburgh for persistent infringements. There has been a mountain of penalties today an Keeatley boots the ball high into the stand from point-blank range.
Boom! Just as I say that Geoff Cross is told to run all the way around to the SINBIN for dragging down a maul.
TRY! Munster 38 – 6 Edinburgh (Jones ‘ 75)
A brilliant flowing move from left to right give Munster try number six. Zebo ran at the line and made the second last defender commit before offering Felix Jones the inside angle and he duly cut right onto it. Brilliant decisive play.
Two minutes are left here and Edinburgh’s 14 remaining men are spent. Munster come back on the attack and Zebo attempts to burrow his way under a tackler, but comes up short and knocks on.
Scrum, this could well be the last action of the game.
FULL-TIME: Munster 38 – 6 Edinburgh
A loud cheer goes up in Thomond as the PA announcer raises the possibility of Leinster coming here for a quarter-final in April. Clermont v Racing holds the key to that tantalising game.
Anyway, thanks for sticking with the liveblog here, folks. My fingers are numb, but it has been a pleasure.