Munster maintain play-off push
April 18, 2010
Glasgow's Colin Shaw takes on the Ulster defence during his side's victory at the Firhill Arena © PA Photos
Munster kept their play-off hopes alive with an 18-12 victory over in-form Connacht at the Sportsgrounds.
Fielding a back line that included three debutants, Munster led 11-7 at half-time having played with the wind advantage, and a converted try shortly after the break from fullback Scott Deasy proved the decisive score. No.8 George Naoupu, who had another excellent game for Connacht, worked his way over for a try on the hour mark, but despite ending the game in the Munster 22, Michael Bradley's men could not break down the red defensive wall. The victory moved Munster up to third in the league table, but Connacht, who host Leinster in a rearranged match on Wednesday, will feel this was a missed opportunity.
A ruck infringement from Connacht cpatain John Muldoon after four minutes in was punished by a well-struck opening penalty from Paul Warwick who doubled his side's lead a few minutes later. But Connacht's first visit to the Munster 22, sparked by an Ian Keatley break, saw Johnny O'Connor power over in the corner with Keatley's pinpoint conversion made it 7-6. Connacht continued to see plenty of ball but Munster's big forwards were winning the collisions, as evidenced by Nick Williams' hand-off on Naoupu in the lead-up to Niall Ronan's 31st-minute score.
The visitors increased their lead just two minutes after the break, as Williams sent Simon Zebo through a gap and the debutant winger popped a one-handed pass for Deasy to go over for a try which Warwick did brilliantly to convert. A deliberate knock on saw Zebo sin-binned and just a minute later, Naoupu used quick ruck ball to score in the left corner, although replacement Miah Nikora was off target with the conversion attempt. And Munster had enough in reserve to see out their first away win in the league since September.
Elsewhere on Sunday, wing Will Harries grabbed a hat-trick as the Dragons produced a top-drawer second-half display to beat play-off chasing Edinburgh 49-28 at Rodney Parade. The Welshmen went over seven times in total to keep their own slight chances of the title alive. The seventh-placed Dragons can still make the play-offs themselves after this triumph but have been buoyed by the Cardiff Blues win over the Scarlets on Saturday that ensured them Heineken Cup rugby next season.
Dragons scrum-half Wayne Evans crossed for the first try of the game but that lead did not last long as, almost straight from the re-start, Edinburgh's Scotland international outside-half Phil Godman picked up on a loose ball and fed flanker Alan MacDonald to go over under the posts. Godman's conversion put Edinburgh 7-5 ahead but a blast through the middle from 25 metres out by centre Ashley Smith restored the Dragons' lead. Evans converted as regular kicker Jason Tovey was being treated for an injury that ended his game
Dragons loose-head prop Hugh Gustafson was sin-binned for dropping the scrum on his own line midway through the half which, moments later, led to referee James Jones awarding a penalty try that gave Edinburgh a 14-12 lead. Tovey's replacement, James Arlidge, restored the home advantage with a penalty and Harries increased it with a good try right on half-time.
And it just got even better for the Dragons in the next 40 minutes as Edinburgh missed tackles and created little in the way of attack. Arlidge added another penalty after the break and Harries the other two tries before the hour to complete his hat-trick. With some renewed vigour in the final quarter, Edinburgh gave themselves a slender hope as centre Ben Cairns went under the posts, with Godman's conversion meaning they could draw with two more converted tries. However, any revival was killed off completely when wing Richard Fussell grabbed a sixth touchdown and fullback Martyn Thomas scored a spectacular 60-metre effort. To their credit, Edinburgh fought to get something out of the match and managed it when hooker Ross Ford came out of a pile of bodies with the ball and they secured their try bonus point.
Jamie Roberts bagged a brace as the Cardiff Blues produced five tries to beat the Scarlets 39-16 at Parc y Scarlets on Saturday night and book their place in next season's Heineken Cup. In contrast, the Scarlets will now have to hope the Blues win the European Challenge Cup in order to gain a back-door entry into Europe's premier club competition with Stephen Jones' decision to sign a new contract failing to lift the struggling Llanelli side.
Regan King got them off to a dream start, scoring an 11th minute penalty which Jones converted. Ben Blair kicked a penalty, before Roberts crossed for his first try at the end of the opening quarter, converted by the former All Black. A penalty and drop-goal from Jones edged the Scarlets ahead, but Deiniol Jones scored a try to put the Blues back in front.
Jones kicked an injury time penalty as the hosts led at the break, but they couldn't contain the Blues after the break as they failed to score. Tongan prop Tau Filise was first to score a try, before Roberts secured the bonus point and Richie Rees completed the job with a try. The win has moved the Blues up to sixth place, three points ahead of the Dragons who host Edinburgh on Sunday. The Scarlets remain second-from-bottom in the standings and ten points behind the Dragons with two games remaining.
Elsewhere on Friday night, Glasgow maintained their push for the play-offs with a 25-18 victory over Ulster at the Firhill Arena. Glasgow fly-half Dan Parks scored 20 points including four vital second-half drop-goals as the Warriors blasted back from a poor first half to sink their Irish rivals. Paul Marshall's fine breakaway try put Ulster ahead but Parks reduced the deficit to 5-3 with a 13th-minute penalty and that is the way it remained until the interval. Ian Humphreys' boot matched Parks and helped Ulster re-establish their five-point cushion at 11-6 but a Graeme Morrison try and three further drop-goals from Parks put the hosts in control. Jamie Smith crossed for a late consolation try for the visitors but it was not enough to prevent a fourth consecutive loss.
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