Happy ending

Five-try win in Thomond sees Munster secure Champions Cup rugby

Anthony Foley’s men had too much for the visiting Scarlets in Limerick.

Munster 31

Scarlets 15

Murray Kinsella reports from Thomond Park

MUNSTER SECURED CHAMPIONS Cup rugby for next season with a bonus-point 31-15 victory on the final day of what has been a disappointing 2015/16 season.

Anthony Foley’s men ensured they will be playing at the premier level of European club competition again with a five-try success in front of just under 12,000 people at a wet Thomond Park.

Francis Saili scores a try Francis Saili dives in for a first-half score. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Breakaway tries from Francis Saili and Ronan O’Mahony in either half were the highlights in a performance that Munster will admit was not perfect. However, ending the campaign in a positive fashion will have come as a relief, with The Fields of Athenry ringing around the Limerick venue late on.

Foley’s era as the top man ends in victory and a sixth-placed Guinness Pro12 finish, with the former number eight now looking towards working under new director of rugby Rassie Erasmus.

The South African will have seen more examples of quality from the likes of Saili, Rory Scannell, Jack O’Donoghue, Keith Earls, Dave O’Callaghan and barnstorming captain CJ Stander in this contest and supporters will certainly look forward to seeing what Erasmus can bring to this group.

Foley will have taken great satisfaction from the fact that Munster did not need the favours of others to secure their Champions Cup spot, even if rivals the Ospreys and Edinburgh did contrive to lose on the final day of the regular season.

The Scarlets, for their part, missed out on the Guinness Pro12 play-offs but they too will be playing Champions Cup rugby next season.

Munster started poorly in the wet conditions, with their loose kicking game and passive linespeed inviting the Scarlets forward and leading to Steve Shingler’s opening penalty success of the afternoon in the ninth minute.

The game was being played in the Munster 22 but the Welsh side were not error-free and Munster punished them with a stunning counter-attack soon after.

Rory Scannell celebrates his try with Conor Murray Rory Scannell bagged two tries for Munster. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

O’Donoghue – who was superb after replacing the injured Tommy O’Donnell – turned over John Barclay 10 metres from Munster’s tryline and Saili pounced, grubbering short up the left for Earls to retrieve.

The Ireland wing beat one tackle as he burst towards the halfway line, drew in the final defender and found Saili working hard to support on his inside shoulder. The All Blacks-capped centre streaked clear to finished for a gorgeous score converted by Holland.

The Scarlets almost responded with a try of their in the 18th minute, left wing Steff Evans crossing in the corner, but referee Nigel Owens cancelled it out in conjunction with his TMO as Shingler stood over the conversion. Hadleigh Parkes’ final pass was forward and Owens correctly chalked off the try he had initially awarded.

However, the Welsh side did get three points after Dave Kilcoyne knocked on as Munster looked to exit, Owens pinging the province for failing to roll clear. Singler made it 7-6.

Munster again found a try-scoring response, with Rory Scannell the man to smartly finish their 23rd-minute effort, following some big carries by Stander, Mike Sherry and Kilcoyne under the posts. Holland again converted for the home side.

Foley’s men gave up another penalty in the 29th minute as their count rose in that department, Shingler rewarding openside James Davies for one of his breakdown turnover penalties after a powerful Stander carry left him isolated.

The Welsh region drew closer to Munster again with four minutes of the half remaining, Saili failing to roll away after his choke tackle attempt had failed and Shingler again slotting the three points, leaving the visitors 14-12 behind at the interval.

A superb Earls tackle directly from the restart, forcing Scarlets to dive off their feet in desperation to secure the ruck, gave Holland a penalty shot at goal but the Cork man missed from the left of the posts.

Jack O'Donoghue is tackled by John Barclay and Hadleigh Parkes Jack O'Donoghue was superb for the home side. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

A big break from openside Davies reminded Munster of their need to focus, before the southern province lost a five-metre lineout that eventually saw Shingler chip over their defensive line from close in.

The Scarlets out-half claimed to have been tripped by Stephen Archer as he chased the ball towards the tryline, but a TMO check confirmed there was little or no contact.

Another five-metre lineout loss, near the Scarlets’ tryline this time, saw Munster give up an attacking opportunity with 55 minutes gone and then they lost the influential Conor Murray to injury heading into the final quarter.

Murray followed O’Donnell, Niall Scannell and Andrew Conway off injured, with Simon Zebo soon joining them.

That could have upset Foley’s men, but instead they pounced on yet another Scarlets handling error. The superb Rory Scannell scooped the loose ball up near the halfway line, drew a tackle and offloaded inside for sub wing Ronan O’Mahony to sprint clear.

Holland was wide with the conversion effort, before the Scarlets opted to go for goal with a penalty and draw back with within four points at 19-15.

Munster essentially wrapped up the win in the 68th minute as that man Stander barrelled over from close range, the TMO Marshall Kilgore confirming the score.

Holland was wide with his conversion attempt again, but made no such mistake after inside centre Scannell dove over for his second in the final minute to send Munster fans home happy.

Munster scorers:

Tries: Francis Saili, Rory Scannell [2], Ronan O’Mahony, CJ Stander

Conversions: Johnny Holland [3 from 5]

Penalties: Johnny Holland [0 from 1]

Scarlets scorers:

Penalties: Steve Shingler [5 from 5]

MUNSTER: Simon Zebo (Ian Keatley ’64); Andrew Conway (Ronan O’Mahony ’24 to ’31, permanent ’38), Francis Saili, Rory Scannell, Keith Earls; Johnny Holland, Conor Murray (Duncan Williams ’58); Dave Kilcoyne (James Cronin ’56), Niall Scannell (Mike Sherry ’3), Stephen Archer (John Ryan ’71); Dave Foley (Robin Copeland ’62), Billy Holland; Dave O’Callaghan, Tommy O’Donnell (Jack O’Donoghue ’8), CJ Stander (captain).

SCARLETS: Liam Williams; Gareth Owen, Steff Hughes, Hadleigh Parkes, Steff Evans (Aled Thomas ’72); Steve Shingler, Aled Davies (Gareth Davies ’53); Rob Evans (Dylan Evans ’75), Ken Owens (captain), Peter Edwards (Rhodri Jones ’68); Jake Ball, David Bulbring (Morgan Allen ’55); Lewis Rawlins (Tom Price ’64), James Davies, John Barclay.

Replacements not used: Ryan Elias, Jordan Williams.

Referee: Nigel Owens [WRU].

Attendance: c. 12,000.

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