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Wednesday 8 February 2023 Dublin: 4°C
Dan Sheridan/INPHO
# Hat-trick Hero
Simon Zebo bags a hat-trick as Munster nail a bonus point win over Edinburgh
Munster defeated Edinburgh 34-20 at Thomond Park this evening.

MUNSTER 34

EDINBURGH 20

Garry Doyle at Thomond Park

THIS WAS SO much better, not just the result but everything that went into it. Four tries, three for Simon Zebo, lifts Munster into third spot in the URC standings. What’s more, you can be sure Johann van Graan wasn’t the only coach happy with what he saw.

Watching on, Andy Farrell couldn’t fail to note the contributions Dave Kilcoyne, Gavin Coombes, Craig Casey, Chris Farrell and Zebo made to the win – and that’s before we get to Jack O’Donoghue.

It’s not as if Ireland are short of back-row options but just in case Farrell was worried about their depth chart, well here is another reason not to be. He ticks just about every box, O’Donoghue. Good around the park, even better in the line-out, he has recently added the captaincy to his CV in Peter O’Mahony’s absence. Here he did a decent impression of the Cork-man.

It all added up to a good night’s work. A couple of weeks ago Edinburgh were top of this league but that was before they came to the RDS and Thomond Park. All of a sudden those wins over Zebre, Scarlets and Dragons don’t look that impressive.

Munster did impress, though – one moment in particular standing out. It came on the stroke of half-time just seconds after Edinburgh had reduced a 13-point gap to three. Needing to show a little urgency, Munster did just that, throwing Zebo a pass – a rarity in that first-half – and immediately seeing the benefits of doing so.

A high tackle on Zebo led to a penalty within Ben Healy’s shooting distance. Now, bear in mind the score at this point. Consider too that Healy had already kicked three from three, including one huge effort from 45 metres. The conservative option would have been to go for the posts.

Instead O’Donoghue directed Healy to the corner. In doing so, he offered us a glimpse into what is possible with this team. They may not be the prettiest to watch but once they enter the opposition 22, they are efficient.

jack-odonoghue-with-ben-muncaster Dan Sheridan / INPHO Jack O'Donoghue with Ben Muncaster. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Certainly they were for this try, finished by Zebo, but only after Farrell and Healy had handled the ball with precision and skill, only after Niall Scannell had once again found his man at the line-out, only after the pack had bashed Edinburgh backwards, only after Casey had scanned the field and realised it was time to release his backline. Overall, it was a victory for ambition – and it changed the game.

From there, you just knew Munster would win. Prior to then, for a brief moment, you were prepared to give Edinburgh the benefit of the doubt. They’d shown spirit and skill to get it back to 13-10 and had they reached half-time with that deficit then who knows?

But they didn’t get that far. The Zebo try was psychologically crushing. There would be no way back.  

They did try, though. A second penalty of the night from Emiliano Boffelli again brought them within a score. Again, Munster slammed the door shut as soon as they noticed it was slightly ajar, Zebo’s second try stemming from a lucky deflection off replacement hooker, Diarmuid Barron’s head, before Munster made the most of their good fortune, Healy spinning the ball wide, Dan Goggin in turn releasing Mike Haley who straightened his line before selflessly releasing Zebo. Try number two for him, game over for Edinburgh.

And yet, and yet, they kept plugging away. One sustained period of pressure – from 61 to 64 minutes – saw them camp inside the Munster 22. Twice they went wide, each time nothing came of it and eventually they coughed up a knock-on after Kilcoyne marked his 200th appearance with a thumping tackle.

On it went. Henry Pyrgos got across on 70 minutes – again just a score separated the sides and yet you just never believed it would ignite a comeback. Rather it acted as a kick up the backside, leading Munster back into Edinburgh territory – courtesy of Healy finding a brilliant touch.

Once more, their line-out functioned sweetly. Once more, the maul drove Edinburgh back and once more Zebo saw his chance. He took it, helped by Neil Cronin’s clever running line. And that was that.

Nonetheless, there are flaws. Too often they fell asleep in this game. When dominant at the start, they should have built an even bigger lead than they did.

By the end of the first quarter, they had 13 points to their name, Healy with an early penalty and then his spiral kick sent Munster into the opposition 22.

Scannell found his man – Fineen Wycherley the recipient this time – before a patient period of phase-building saw Coombes, Farrell and O’Donoghue make substantial inroads before Wycherley had the final say, diving bravely at the base of the posts to get the game’s opening try.

Edinburgh offered very little at this stage. But out of nowhere, they made themselves known, Connor Boyle having a say in proceedings before their first score arrived when Emiliano Boffell ran a clever line, centre Mark Bennett took an even better one, timing his pass to Ramiro Moyano perfectly. 13-7, 24 minutes played.

Boffelli’s penalty on 38 minutes cut the gap to three. Their night?

Enter Simon Zebo. No one upstages him on this ground.

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Munster scorers

Tries: Wycherley, Zebo 3

Conversions: Healy (4/4)

Penalties: Healy

Edinburgh scorers

Tries: Moyona, Pyrgos

Conversions: Boffelli (2/2)

Penalties: Boffelli (2/2)

Munster: Mike Haley; Calvin Nash (rep: Shane Daly ’71), Chris Farrell, Dan Goggin, Simon Zebo; Ben Healy (rep: Jack Crowley ’78), Craig Casey (rep: Neil Cronin ’71); Dave Kilcoyne (rep: Jeremy Loughman ’65), Diarmuid Barron (rep: Niall Scannell ’55), Stephen Archer (rep: John Ryan ’55); Jean Kleyn (rep: Alex Kendellen ’71), Fineen Wycherley; Jack O’Donoghue (capt), Chris Cloete (rep: John Hodnett ’55), Gavin Coombes.

Edinburgh: Henry Immelman; Ramiro Moyano (Charlie Savala ’78), Mark Bennett (rep: Chris Dean ’59), James Lang, Emiliano Boffelli; Blair Kinghorn, Ben Vellacott (rep: Henry Pyrgos ’65); Boan Venter (rep: Sam Grahamslaw ’72), Adam McBurney (rep: Dave Cherry ‘), Lee-Roy Atalifo (rep: Jake Armstrong ’59); Marshall Sykes, Glen Young (rep: Pierce Phillips ’66); Nick Haining, Connor Boyle, Ben Muncaster .

Replacements:  Mesulame Kunavula,

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