MUNSTER qualified for the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup with victory over Gloucester at Kingsholm on Saturday night.
Rugby Correspondent Colm Kinsella rates how Rob Penney’s players performed in their 20-7 success.
Felix Jones 7
Very solid performance defensively from the full-back. Didn’t get too many opportunities to counter-attack, but played significant role in this success.
Keith Earls 7
Earls’ availability for the game was a big boost to Munster as he led the way in numbers of defenders beaten, metres gained and turnovers won for his side in the Cup this season. Showed his class and speed in pouncing on Keatley’s grubber kick for Munster’s opening try. Munster will be anxious he pens new contract with the IRFU.
Casey Laulala 7
Laulala remains a key ball-carrying figure for Munster, making 45 carries in the Heineken Cup this season prior kick-off at Kingsholm. Didn’t get as many opportunities to attack here.
James Downey 7
Downey, who was sidelined with an irritated groin against Ulster, returning to partner Casey Laulala in the centre. One very important tap tackle on Johnny May bailed Munster out of a precarious situation during the second half.
Johne Murphy 9
Rewarded for a series of excellent performances in recent weeks with a start on the wing. Would have been anxious to impress with Simon Zebo back on the replacements bench and rose to the challenge by turning in one of his very best performances in the red jersey. Huge appetite for work. No surprise he made more metres, 53, than any other Munster player with ball in hand.
Ian Keatley 8
Rob Penney showed real faith in the former Connacht fly-half to start him despite a poor goal-kicking display against Ulster and some fine showings from JJ Hanrahan of late. Keatley repaid Penney in style, turning in a controlled and assured display. Goal-kicking was back on song although he did use the grubber kick which led to Keith Earls first half try once or twice too often.
Conor Murray 7
Murray’s recovery from a knee injury which kept him out for five weeks was a welcome boost for Munster. The scrum-half, who was making his 50th appearance for the province, turned in an impressive display. The scrum-half is evolving into a hugely influential leader.
David Kilcoyne 8
Kilcoyne will have been delighted to get the nod to start at Kingsholm as it provided him with the perfect opportunity to impress Joe Schmidt ahead of his selection of the Six Nations squad. The loosehead enjoyed a very productive evening at scrum-time and carried effectively.
Damien Varley 7
Overcame the foot injury he sustained against Ulster eight days earlier sufficiently to be named in Munster’s starting line-up. Penney insisted it wasn’t a gamble to start Varley and the hooker justified the decision, turning in a fine display. For good measure, Munster won 10 of 11 line-outs on their own throw.
BJ Botha 7
The powerful South African was no doubt picked ahead of Stephen Archer for his scrummaging ability and vast experience. Made very useful contribution in the build-up to Keith Earls’ try when collecting off-load from Laulala, before making crucial yards.
David Foley 7
The UL-Bohs’ clubman has been grabbing his opportunities to impress in recent weeks and was making his first appearance in the Heineken Cup here. Industrious and abrasive here, Foley took more throws than anyone in the line-out and made an impressive 12 tackles.
Paul O’Connell 9
Key figure as always in the Munster engine room on his 150th appearance for the province. Led from the front, never taking a back step. Got through an enormous amount of work and was awarded the Heineken Man of the Match accolade. Munster will hope he signs a new contract with the IRFU quickly.
Peter O’Mahony 8
The captain and one of the main leaders of the pack. Brave and tenacious in scoring Munster’s crucial second half try which gave the visitors some breathing space. Leads by example.
Tommy O’Donnell 7
These are big weeks for the UL-Bohs’ clubman with Munster involved in key Heineken Cup games which provide O’Donnell with the opportunity to impress Joe Schmidt ahead of squad and team selection for the Six Nations. Did his cause no harm here with a solid performance. Got through an amount of invaluable work at the breakdown.
James Coughlan 7
A real favourite with Penney for his honesty and huge work-rate. Match stats show Coughlan carried the ball eight times, more than any other Munster player and topped the tackle charts with 13. Crucial member of the back-row.
James Cronin 6
Played the final 16 minutes when introduced for Dave Kilcoyne. Exciting prospect, who has made big strides forward this season.
Stephen Archer 6
Replaced Botha with the clock showing 67 minutes. Worked hard when introduced. Will hope to get the nod to start at tighthead against Edinburgh next weekend.
Donncha O’Callaghan 6
Started on the bench after picking up a knock against Ulster. Replaced Dave Foley here with 12 minutes remaining. Another who will be hoping to start at Thomond Park against Edinburgh.
Simon Zebo 6
Munster fans will be glad to see the flying Zebo return after being out since October with a broken bone in his foot. Faces a battle to dislodge the in-form Johne Murphy from the starting line-up.
Duncan Casey, CJ Stander, Duncan Williams, JJ Hanrahan (Not on long enough to be rated)