Planet Rugby

Munster in pole position

16th December 2007 14:43

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Pool Five is still anyone's, but Munster are in pole position after a comfortable 22-13 win over the Scarlets in the Heineken Cup at Thomond Park on Sunday.

Three yellow cards, three high tackles, three penalties for playing the man without the ball, a punch and accusation of fingers in eye suggests a crabby match. It certainly was not Morris dancing but the nasty bits were in bits and pieces of a match more fractured than fractious.

The rain-free but windy weather at the Thomond Park was far better than it had been at Stradey Park the week before but the handling was not as good. At Stradey there were 15 scrums, at Thomond 21. At Stradey three resets and two collapses, at Thomond 10 resets and five collapses. At Stradey there were 14 penalties, at Thomond 22.

But the end result was the same: victory for Munster over the blue-shirted Scarlets.

Munster played with the wind in the first half of the match at the Thomond building site with lots of red in the crowd - the red of Munster, not the scarlet of Llanelli, some of the red Christmas hats but much more likely to sing Athenry than Sospan Fach.

Munster started with more enterprise than they showed in the rest of the match. They won quick ball and Ronan O'Gara distributed with great judgement. The fly-half kicked a long kick back into the box on the left where Denis Leamy won the ball on the ground. Munster went quickly right and then back left where O'Gara threw a magnificent pass to Jerry Flannery out on the touch-line and the lively hooker forced his way over in the corner. 5-0 after seven minutes.

When David Wallace went off-side, Stephen Jones's kick came back off the upright but Mick O'Driscoll passed back to nobody in particular in his in-goal and the Scarlets were on the attack with a five-metre scrum. They relished the attack until Stephen Jones cut past Donncha O'Callaghan to score a try which he converted and the Scarlets led 7-5 after 11 minutes.

The visitors' lead lasted four minutes and was then wiped out for good. They went off-side and O'Gara made the score 8-7, after which the Scarlets again attacked when enterprising Morgan Stoddart caught Shaun Payne in possession. But O'Driscoll stole the line-out ball and the Scarlets were penalised for an illegal tackle in the line-out.

When Adam Eustace came in the side of a tackle, O'Gara made it 11-7 and when Ben Broster came in the side he was sent to the sin bin and O'Gara made it 14-7. Prop off, the Scarlets brought on Deacon Manu and sent fullback Stoddart to rest for ten minutes, an unusual replacement but they clearly wanted the fullness of their pack to battle the Munstermen.

Munster battered at the Scarlets' line. The TMO decided that he could not see if Leamy had scored or not, which produced a five-metre scrum. Again they battered but Flannery produced an accidental off-side which ended the half at 14-7 to the home side.

Prop Federico Pucciarello had a strange injury early in the second half. He entered a tackle/ruck. Peter Stringer was there before him but he was upended and his boot flew into Pucciarello's face. The Argentinian Italian played on after attention.

Brian Carney brought off a great tackle but then fiddled with the ball and was penalised. Stephen Jones made the score 14-10 after 48 minutes.

A high tackle by Alix Popham, Llanelli's third such infringement, gave O'Gara an easy penalty. 17-10 after 60 minutes. But then Munster went off-side and Stephen Jones made it 17-13 after 63 minutes. Hope must have flared up in Scarlet breasts because they were close and had the wind behind them. They did not score again. In fact they did not look like scoring again as Munster dominated possession.

At a scrum, in which Munster had the upper hand, Marcus Horan, on for Pucciarello, was flagged for punching Manu and sent to the sin bin. He suggested that a finger or two had found his eye. The referee said that he had not seen it and such a matter would perhaps be of interest to the citing commissioner.

Down a man, Munster scored when they won a turn-over and Flannery went left. Back they came to the far right where Payne came into the line and gave Carney an easy run-in. 22-13 after 74 minutes.

In that movement Popham tackled Wallace, heavily, without the ball and he became the third man in the bin.

Man of the Match: Morgan Stoddart was a candidate for Llanelli but the better performances came from the home side - Shaun Payne at fullback, busy Rua Tipoki with the clever feet and the ambition to be a loose forward, Denis Leamy, and big John Hayes who scrummed so well, tackled and won turn-overs and our Man of the Match - for his nous and control of the game - Ronan O'Gara.

The scorers:

For Munster:

Tries: Flannery, Carney

Pens: O'Gara 4

For the Scarlets:

Try: Stephen Jones

Con: Stephen Jones

Pens: Stephen Jones 2

Yellow cards: Broster (30, Scarlets, killing the ball), Horan (65, Munster, punching), Popham (71, Scarlets, late tackle)

Munster: 15 Shaun Payne, 14 Brian Carney, 13 Rua Tipoki, 12 Lifeimi Mafi, 11 Ian Dowling, 10 Ronan O'Gara (c), 9 Peter Stringer, 8 Anthony Foley, 7 David Wallace, 6 Denis Leamy, 5 Mick O'Driscoll, 4 Donncha O'Callaghan, 3 John Hayes, 2 Jerry Flannery, 1 Federico Pucciarello.

Replacements: 16 Frankie Sheahan, 17 Marcus Horan, 18 Donnacha Ryan, 19 Niall Ronan, 20 Gerry Hurley, 21 Paul Warwick, 22 Kieran Lewis.

Llanelli Scarlets: 15 Morgan Stoddart, 14 Mark Jones, 13 Regan King, 12 Jonathan Davies, 11 Nathan Brew, 10 Stephen Jones, 9 Dwayne Peel, 8 Alix Popham, 7 James Bater, 6 Simon Easterby (c), 5 Adam Eustace, 4 Vernon Cooper, 3 Ben Broster, 2 James Hayter, 1 Iestyn Thomas.

Replacements: 16 Daniel George, 17 Deacon Manu, 18 Scott MacLeod, 19 Nathan Thomas, 20 Gavin Thomas, 21 Gavin Cattle, 22 Ceiron Thomas.

Referee: David Pearson (England)

Touch judges: Chris White (England), Stuart Terheege (England)

Television match official: Geoff Warren (England)

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