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Zebo’s brilliance paves the way for a Munster v Leinster Guinness PRO14 semi-final

By Aidan Corr
in Thomond Park
Guinness PRO14 quarter final qualifier:
Munster 20, Edinburgh 16
BEFORE an attendance of 10,205 in Limerick today these two teams served up a thrilling encounter. A single point separated them with ten minutes remaining and it was clear that this was going to be decided by a very narrow margin. Munster got the rub of the green, Hanrahan landing a close-in penalty and despite a heroic effort from Edinburgh from that point to the final whistle, the Leinster v Munster semi-final was assured.
The Edinburgh defence was magnificent throughout, they competed tigerishly at the breakdown and their backline continually caused problems for Munster. It was not the best first half performance for the home side. They never released their runners to any great effect, the high kick and chase was well protected by the Scottish and this game was on a knife edge going into the second half. Munster did not dally around as that second 40 minutes got underway and it was Simon Zebo, playing his final game at the venue before his departure for France, who conjured up a piece of magic. Referee Owens had signalled for a Munster penalty but Zebo played on, used a neat left boot chip and chase to retrieve possession and his lengthy pass sent Keith Earls in for a well-worked try, converted by JJ Hanrahan.
With a 14-6 lead, Munster looked more comfortable and they continued to dominate. Another JJ Hanrahan penalty pushed the home lead to 17-6 and the prospect of a meeting with Leinster in the semi-final was becoming more likely with 30 minutes to play.
Hildago-Clyne cut the lead to 17-9 on 55 minutes from a close-in penalty but a brilliant counter-attack by Bill Mata set up a try for replacement Nathan Fowles to bring the Scottish back to within three points once again. Jaco van der West’s connversion went clean between the posts and Munster’s 11 point lead was cut to the minimum, 17-16 as we entered the final quarter.
Two penalty decisions went in favour of Munster, the second one within distance and JJ Hanrahan obliged to put his side 20-16 in front with seven minutes left. In a tense last few minutes, Dougie Weir kicked direct to touch from his ten metre line and the pendulum swung firmly in favour of the home side. edinburgh got a last gasp chance. A penalty brought them to halfway with only seconds left, they ran the ball through the hands, left then right, forced another penalty and a lineout inside the home 22. Munster robbed the throw and that was it, Leinster will play Munster in the semi-final in the Aviva Stadium on Saturday, May 19.
The opening stages were fairly even but Munster took the lead after seven minutes, Rhys Marshall snapping up a wayward defensive lineout throw from Edinburgh captain Stuart McInally after JJ Hanrahan have given his side a good platform with a well-placed kick from play. The visitors responded well, winger Duhan van der Merwe tearing a big hole in the Munster defence but with the try line beckoning, the loose head prop knocked the ball on. Edinburgh looked comfortable when they threw the ball out wide and they were certainly not in Limerick to enjoy the Riverfest.
James Cronin conceded a penalty on 18 minutes to give the Scottish side their first real chance of getting points on the board and Sam Hildago-Clyne landed the kick with ease to reduce the lead to 7-3 with 19 minutes played. With their number eight Bill Mata causing trouble for Munster each time he got the ball, Edinburgh continued to edge possession and their scrum-half Sam Hildago-Clyne left just a point between the sides on 25 minutes when he landed his second penalty from 42 metres out.
A penalty at scrum time gave Munster a chance to restore that four point advantage, but JJ Hanrahan’s kick drifted wide of the right hand posts at the Mayorstone end. Andrew Conway had to leave the field for a HIA, replaced by Darren Sweennam, ten minutes before the break before Edinburgh gifted Munster a scrum, referee Owens ruling that they delayed too long at a lineout. The visitors continued to be dangerous on the break and full-back Blair Kinghorn again asked questions of the Munster defence with a 45 metre break. Half time, Munster 7, Edinburgh 6.
Munster: Simon Zebo; Andrew Conway, Sammy Arnold, Rory Scannell, Keith Earls; JJ Hanrahan, Conor Murray; James Cronin, Rhys Marshall, Stephen Archer; Jean Kleyn, Billy Holland; Peter O’Mahony (C), Jack O’Donoghue, CJ Stander.
Replacements: Mike Sherry for Marshall 69, Dave Kilcoyne, Ciaran Parker for Archer 16, Gerbrandt Grobler for Klein 53, Robin Copeland, James Hart, Ian Keatley, Darren Sweetnam for Conway 34.
Edinburgh: Blair Kinghorn; Dougie Fife, Mark Bennett, Chris Dean, Duhan van der Merwe; Jaco van der Walt, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne; Jordan Lay, Stuart McInally, captain; Simon Berghan; Ben Toolis, Grant Gilchrist; Magnus Bradbury, Jamie Ritchie, Bill Mata.
Replacements: 16. Neil Cochrane (75); 17. Allan Dell (43); 18. WP Nel (115); 19. Lewis Carmichael (32); 20 Cornell du Preez (104); 21. Nathan Fowles (58); 22. Duncan Weir (34); 23. James Johnstone (17).
Referee, Nigel Owens, WAR

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