Zebo and Conway doubts for Munster’s clash with Toulon
Improved second-half display leads to encouraging victory over champions Scarlets
Munster’s Jack O’Donoghue gets away from Scarlets’ Rhys Patchell and Tom Varndell during the Guinness PRO14 clash at Thomond Park. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Munster warmed up for Europe with an impressive victory over Scarlets at Thomond Park but they needed a strong second half and tries from Robin Copeland and Alex Wootton to claim victory against the champions.
Munster’s injury problems in the backline increased near full-time when Rory Scannell left the field for a head injury assessment. With seven days to go before the Toulon clash, coach Johann van Graan will be sweating over his availability in an already weakened division.
The coach already has to plan without backs Keith Earls, Jaco Taute, Chris Farrell and Tyler Bleyendaal, while Tommy O’Donnell sustained a reoccurrence of his troublesome shoulder injury, which sees him join fellow flanker Chris Cloete on the absent list.
The coach will be anxiously awaiting the medics’ report early this week to see if fullbacks Zebo and Conway can make it.
“Yes, Simon is a doubt for next week, same with Andrew Conway. At least he did some work with the physios on field. I think it will be touch and go in both instances, so I would say 50/50 at this stage,” said van Graan.
“It’s not something I can control at this stage, I have a lot of belief in our medical staff. Zeebs and Andrew want to be ready for next weekend, so it is all in the mind as well.
“At this stage our squad’s motto is just adapt, and reassess on Monday, start at zero, whoever is available on Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday for this game we will pick. If guys aren’t ready, we will go with good next week who are 100 per cent.”
In the early stages of this game it appeared as if Scarlets could repeat their victory over Munster in last season’s Pro12 final, as they showed much of the attacking flair that brought them silverware, only for their clinical edge to desert them.
The Welsh region took an early lead thanks to Aled Davies’s try but they could not add to that score despite their early superiority.
Scrum-half James Hart bagged his second Munster try before half-time to haul the home side back into the tie, while a much improved performance from the home side after the break saw Copeland and Wooten clinching the points.
Ahead of a huge test from the in-form Top14 outfit next Saturday, van Graan was happy to see his charges come through the challenge.
“The Scarlets really tested us. They started the game like a runaway train. Their width, we knew was coming, but you could only face it with game-time and scrums in your legs.
“I thought we adjusted well, the players found solutions on the field, we got our width and won some collisions. The passage of play, once we got the ball in their 22 we created pressure.
“We turned down the opportunity to go for three because we knew we needed to get a few punches in. We scored that try and at half-time we changed one or two things in our plan.”
The performance of referee Marius Mitrea and his TMO came under real scrutiny after the game, and with James Cronin having a try ruled out for an apparent double movement – which left Munster without the bonus point – and James Davies somehow escaping a yellow card for a trip on Sam Arnold, van Graan confirmed he will be discussing matters with the league’s referees manager.
“I thought there were one or two decisions that went against us at the end of the game. We’ll review it and we’ll send our report to Greg Garner.
“We need to have a look at it and follow appropriate channels and I also thought there was some good decisions in that game so the thing I’m proudest of is the way the players reacted to it.
“Going into knock-out games you might get a few decisions go against you there as well. All credit to Billy [Holland], I thought Billy was excellent in this game in terms of his leadership. Week in week out he’s there always looking to improve his game.
“I thought the way he handled the referee was good. Put on pressure when he needed to and backed off when he needed to.”
MUNSTER: JJ Hanrahan; C Nash, S Arnold, R Scannell, A Wootton; I Keatley, J Hart; D Kilcoyne, R Marshall, J Ryan; J Kleyn, B Holland; J O’Donoghue, T O’Donnell, R Copeland. Replacements: D O’Callaghan for O’Donnell (48 mins), N Scannell for Marshall (54 mins), J Cronin for Kilcoyne (54 mins), S Archer for Ryan (54 mins), D Goggin for R Scannell (64 mins), G Grobler for Kleyn (67 mins), S Fitzgerald for (73 mins), J Stafford for Hart (79 mins).
SCARLETS: T Williams; T Varndell, S Williams, P Asquith, S Evans; R Patchell, A Davies; D Evans, R Elias, S Lee; T Beirne, D Bulbring; A Shingler, J Davies, W Boyde. Replacements: E Phillips for Elias (54 mins), P Price for D Evans (54 mins), W Kruger for Lee (54 mins), J Macleod for Shingler (54 mins), J Evans for Davies (60 mins), L Rawlins for Beirne (62 mins), D Jones for T Williams (64 mins), S Hughes for S Williams (68 mins).
Referee: Marius Mitrea (FIR).