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Copeland leads Munster to victory over Scarlets in perfect warm-up for Toulon

Tries from the Connacht-bound number eight, James Hart and Alex Wootton sent the southern province into the European quarter-finals on a winning note.

Munster 19

Scarlets 7

Sean Farrell reports from Thomond Park

WE’RE ALL WELL accustomed to inter-provincial clashes setting a nice high intensity level a week out from Europe, but Scarlets and Munster gave each other the next best thing in this hard-fought contest between last year’s finalists.

Both sides will return home to face French opposition in the Champions Cup next weekend – Toulon go to Thomond Park while La Rochelle visit Llanelli – and will be glad for a meaningful clash with a title rival to bridge the gap between Six Nations and the pivotal point of the club season.

Ian Keatley is tackled by Tadhg Beirne Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The champions didn’t waste time in issuing a reminder of their credentials, attacking with a venomous tempo and width in the early stages to stretch Munster. Yet it wasn’t the width that brought Wayne Pivac’s side their only score of the first-half. Rhys Patchell cut the ball back to find Tom Williams on a scything angle through the gap. James Davies linked the move effectively and set scrum-half Aled Davies haring at the line.

Calvin Nash prevented the try first time around, but wasn’t able to wrap the scrum-half up and so Davies slammed the ball down over the line at the second time of asking.

Aled Davies scores his sides first try Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

Trailing by seven early on, the hosts did well not to reach breaking point more often with Scarlets brilliantly shifting the ball from side to side.

The home faithful thought they had turned all the pressure onto their opponents when Alex Wootton sprinted 70 metres for a would-be intercept try. But the TMO review clearly showed the ball pop off the wing’s bicep when he had already pulled the blinkers on in expectation of making a tackle.

The mood shift was enough to knock the visitors out of their rhythm however.

Munster’s dominant scrum gave them a foothold in the game and Ian Keatley was clearly reluctant to give possession back to the champions; twice dummying and carrying himself into contact and later unleashing a terrific (though risky) pass across the head of Tom Varndell to set Jack O’Donoghue away from his own third to deep in opposition territory.

It was the scrum which paved the way for Munster to get on the scoreboard though, an excellent 23rd minute effort from John Ryan leading to a Jean Kleyn-led maul from five metres out. The maul was held up, but off the resulting scrum James Hart spun away to the blindside and, after looking a touch surprised that Nash wasn’t waiting on a short pass, ducked under a dangerous tackle and put the pill on the whitewash.

Keatley’s missed conversion and Patchell’s later penalty attempt bouncing off the post meant last year’s finalists went in with a slender 5 – 7 margin between them.

CJ Stander at the game CJ Stander and Simon Zebo watch on from the stands. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Munster made sure they weren’t going to begin the second period as they did the first. The increase in focus and intensity was palpable and man of the match Robin Copeland’s try seven minutes into the second half came as a result of the number eight’s steal on his own 22.

For a Munster side already with a worryingly long injury list, the sight of Tommy O’Donnell trudging off in a makeshift sling while Keatley kicked the score to 12 – 7 made the celebrations bittersweet.

Though the gap remained just five points until the closing minutes, Munster looked increasingly comfortable with their lead. Perhaps the visitors thoughts turned to next week’s European matters earlier than the hosts and Tadhg Beirne – with many better Thomond Park days ahead of him – was withdrawn just after the hour mark.

Robin Copeland celebrates after the game Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

The matter of putting the result beyond doubt was still to be sorted out though. James Cronin and the whole of Thomond Park was sure that was done in the 66th minute. However, the mystifying Marius Mitrea stepped in at the last second to stop Keatley’s conversion attempt and consult TMO Matteo Liperini and they adjudged – wrongly from our vantage point – that Cronin only touched down after a double motion.

So instead, the honour of wrapping up this absorbing contest went to Wootton, though not without Mitrea and TMO again drawing the ire of the crowd as they reviewed a long looping flat pass from Stephen Fitzgerald to set the wing away.

The win ensures Munster keep a strong grip on second place in Pro14 Conference A while Scarlets must start looking over their shoulder as Edinburgh charge up Conference B. But all Pro14 considerations will take firm back seat for the coming days as the glint of the Champions Cup comes onto the horizon.

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Munster

Tries: J Hart, R Copeland A Wooton

Conversions: I Keatley (2/3)

Scarlets

Tries: A Davies

Conversions: R Patchell (1/1)

Penalties: R Patchell (0/1)

MUNSTER:  JJ Hanrahan, Calvin Nash (Stephen Fitzgerald ’72), Sammy Arnold, Rory Scannell (Dan Goggin ’62), Alex Wootton, Ian Keatley, James Hart: Dave Kilcoyne (James Cronin ’53), Rhys Marshall (Niall Scannell ’53), John Ryan (Stephen Archer ’53); Jean Kleyn (Gerbrandt Grobler ’67), Billy Holland , Jack O’Donoghue, Tommy O’Donnell (Dave O’Callaghan ’48), Robin Copeland.

SCARLETS: Tom Williams (Dan Jones ’62), Tom Varndell, Scott Williams (Steff Huges ’68), Paul Asquith, Steff Evans, Rhys Patchell, Aled Davies (Jonathan Evans ’59): Dylan Evans (Phil Price ’53), Ryan Elias (Emyr Phillips ’53), Samson Lee (Werner Kruger ’53); Tadhg Beirne (Lewis Rawlins ’62), David Bulbring, Aaron Shingler (Josh MacLeod ’53), James Davies, Will Boyde.

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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