Murray Kinsella reports from Murrayfield
HE’S A QUIET man off the pitch but Keith Earls made the loudest impact of anyone as Munster secured a Champions Cup semi-final with victory over Edinburgh in a thrilling quarter-final contest at Murrayfield.
The Ireland international wing scored tries in both halves as Johann van Graan’s side edged a frenetic and thoroughly enjoyable knock-out tie, ensuring the South African boss has brought his side into the final four of Europe for a second consecutive season.
Munster’s performance was not perfect – they will understand the need to improve for the semis – but they sent the travelling Red Army home in delight as Earls’ 72nd minute try grabbed victory in Edinburgh.
Earls celebrates his winning try. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
Munster had to do it the hard way, losing fullback Mike Haley to illness before kick-off and then seeing out-half Joey Carbery and starting openside Jack O’Donoghue departing injured in the opening half.
But they managed those setbacks well, Andrew Conway moving to fullback and excelling there, while Darren Sweetnam was superb after coming in on the wing at a late stage. Arno Botha was a powerful and influential presence as he came on in the back row.
Tyler Bleyendaal, meanwhile, came off the bench at out-half and slotted a touchline conversion of Earls’ second try as well as popping over a penalty in what was as closely-fought a game as had been predicted.
Richard Cockerill’s Edinburgh were game throughout and won a vast number of turnovers as Munster struggled at the breakdown, while fullback Darcy Graham provided several thrilling moments in attack.
But it’s Munster who advance into a remarkable 14th semi-final in this competition.
Van Graan’s men now await the winner of today’s quarter-final between Saracens and Glasgow [KO 3.15pm]. Munster will travel to the Ricoh Arena in the semis if Saracens advance or welcome Glasgow to the Aviva Stadium if the Warriors pull off a shock.
Chris Farrell carries for Munster. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
Edinburgh enjoyed strong early possession and territory, Bill Mata running through Carbery and appearing to injure him as early as the 5th minute but Munster survived the onslaught as CJ Stander won an important turnover penalty following a strong Tadhg Beirne tackle on Hamish Watson.
Munster’s task was made more difficult when Beirne was sin-binned, however, the second row earning his yellow by failing to roll away after a dangerous Edinburgh counter-attack saw John Barclay grubber ahead for Chris Dean to regather.
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Beirne was guilty of cynically killing the ball and Munster had to defend in their 22 with 14 men, doing so impressively as they resisted the Edinburgh pick-and-jam tactics until O’Donoghue won a turnover a metre out from their tryline.
A superb hanging kick from Conor Murray soon after saw Henry Pyrgos spilling the ball back after the tryline at the other end, Keith Earls having applied pressure, where Duhan van der Merwe dotted it down for a five-metre Munster scrum.
After Edinburgh had wasted 22 visits, Munster were clinical. Pyrgos slapped the ball out of Murray’s hands at the base of the scrum for a penalty and with Murray wrestling his opposite number to ground, Earls quick-tapped and danced past Bill Mata to score.
Carbery’s fine conversion sent Munster 7-0 in front heading into the second quarter, just as Beirne returned to the pitch after van Graan’s men had scored without him.
Munster celebrate Keith Earls’ first-half try. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
The incredible rate of turnovers continued apace, with Chris Farrell earning two for Munster and Stuart McInally doing the same for Edinburgh, the second of which gave them the platform for their equalising try in the 27th minute.
Having kicked up the left touchline, a clever sneak over the top of a breakdown by Graham made the crucial metres before carries by Watson and McInally teed up centre Dean to blast through Murray’s tackle to score, Jaco van der Walt converting.
Munster lost O’Donoghue to a head injury during the build-up to that score and he was soon followed off by Carbery, who departed just after van der Walt had kicked a penalty following a sloppy passage of play from the visitors that included Jean Kleyn offloading directly to Edinburgh’s Damien Hoyland after a Rory Scannell turnover.
With Carbery gone, Edinburgh still had time for a searing Graham linebreak on kick return to close out a half that saw Munster enjoy just 33% of the territory and 40% of the possession.
Having trailed 10-7 at the break, the second half started poorly for Munster with a Beirne knock-on but, with the sun emerging, a high tackle from Mata on Rory Scannell allowed Bleyendaal to kick a penalty in the 47th minute to level the game
The parity didn’t last long as Watson swooped for a turnover penalty following a strong kick chase under a hanging Pyrgos box kick, van der Walt slotting the shot at goal from out on the left for a 13-10 home advantage.
Carbery was forced off injured in the first half. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
Munster’s next visit to the 22 was an unhappy one as they came up short from an initial five-metre lineout, Stander stopped just short and John Ryan knocking-on with advantage playing after Pyrgos did his best to kill the ball just short of the tryline.
Van Graan’s charges opted for a five-metre scrum with their penalty but Edinburgh tighthead WP Nel led a huge shunt from the home pack for a scrum penalty with his last act of the game.
Minutes later, the Scots had another penalty as loosehead Pierre Schoeman pounced for a turnover at the breakdown, offering Edinburgh another attacking platform in Munster’s 22.
Graham made another half-break but Munster appeared to have relieved the pressure when Beirne jackaled, but the lock knocked-on in the process of attempting to pilfer and Cockerill’s side had another chance from the resulting close-range scrum.
They looked to have engineered space wide on the right from that set-piece but a brilliant tackle from fullback Conway put Hoyland into touch.
It was a big moment and another arrived as the game entered the closing 10 minutes, Schoeman foolishly taking out Beirne off the ball as Edinburgh attacked and deservedly being penalised.
Bleyendaal came on at out-half for Munster. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
Munster kicked up the right touchline into the 22 and after Bleyendaal rescued an overthrow of the lineout, Murray sparked a wonderful try. The Ireland scrum-half arced to his right from a midfield ruck, offloading one-handed to Rory Scannell.
Scannell hit his centre partner Farrell, whose wonderful catch-pass sent Earls thundering at the right corner, where he dove for a superb finish.
Bleyendaal’s excellent conversion from the touchline put Munster into a 17-13 lead and, despite Edinburgh’s desperate attempts to save their day, van Graan’s men saw out their stirring victory with some hard-working defence.
Tries: Chris Dean
Conversions: Jaco van der Walt [1 from 1]
Penalties: Jaco van der Walt [2 from 2]
Tries: Keith Earls 
Conversions: Joey Carbery [1 from 1], Tyler Bleyendaal [1 from 1]
Penalties: Tyler Bleyendaal [1 from 1]
EDINBURGH: Darcy Graham; Damien Hoyland, James Johnstone [Mark Bennett ’72], Chris Dean, Duhan van der Merwe; Jaco van der Walt, Henry Pyrgos (Charlie Shiel ’77); Pierre Schoeman (Allan Dell ’77), Stuart McInally (captain) (Ross Ford ’77), WP Nel (Simon Berghan ’58); Ben Toolis, Grant Gilchrist; John Barclay (Magnus Bradbury ’58), Hamish Watson [Jamie Ritchie ’72], Viliame Mata.
Replacements: Simon Hickey.
MUNSTER: Andrew Conway; Darren Sweetnam, Chris Farrell, Rory Scannell (Dan Goggin ’77), Keith Earls; Joey Carbery (Tyler Bleyendaal ’36), Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne (Jeremy Loughman ’62), Niall Scannell (Rhys Marshall ’65), John Ryan (Stephen Archer ’58); Jean Kleyn (HIA – Billy Holland ’5 to ’14, permanent ’60), Tadhg Beirne (yellow card ’11); Peter O’Mahony (captain), Jack O’Donoghue (Arno Botha ’28), CJ Stander.
Replacements: Alby Mathewson.
Referee: Pascal Gauzère [France].
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