MUNSTER have qualified for the quarter-final stages of the Heineken Cup after securing a hard-earned 20-7 victory over Gloucester at Kingsholm this Saturday night.
Tries in either half from Keith Earls and Peter O’Mahony, together with 10 points from the boot of out-half Ian Keatley, helped Munster reach the last eight of Europe’s premier club rugby competition for the 15th time.
Munster have a shot at securing home advantage at the quarter-final stage by defeating Edinburgh - probably with a bonus point - at Thomond Park in their final pool game on Sunday, January 19, 12.45pm.
Second row Paul O’Connell turned in a Man of the Match display on his 150th appearance for the province as Rob Penney’s men ultimately choked the life out the ‘cherry and whites’.
Munster led 10-7 at half-time, with Keatley creating the Munster try on 32 minutes when winger Earls pounced on his perfectly-placed grubber kick.
However, Munster let Gloucester right back into the game on the stroke of half-time when poor defence allowed winger Charlie Sharples glide for a fine solo try. Freddie Burns conversion cut Munster’s half-time lead to just three points.
The third quarter failed to produce a score and Munster had to rely on some tenacious defence, excellent work at the breakdown and clever use of the ‘choke’ tackle to maintain their advantage.
The score Munster craved arrived just after the hour mark when captain Peter O’Mahony burrowed over the Gloucester line from close range. A resilient Keatley duo converted and added a further penalty goal on 69 minutes to seal the win for Rob Penney’s men. Keatley fully justified Penney’s faith in starting him, by turning in an assured, controlled display.
Munster fans were also cheered late on by the introduction of fit-again winger Simon Zebo as a replacement.
SCORERS - Munster: Keith Earls, Peter O’Mahony try each, Ian Keatley two pens, two cons. Gloucester: Charlie Sharples try, Freddie Burns con.
GLOUCESTER - Martyn Thomas; Charlie Sharples, Jonny May, Billy Twelvetrees (capt), Shane Monahan; Freddie Burns, Dan Robson; Yann Thomas, Darren Dawiduik, Sila Puafisi, Elliot Stooke, James Hudson, Matt Cox, Matt Kvesic, Gareth Evans. Replacements: Huia Edmonds, Dan Murphy, Shaun Knight, Tom Hicks, Sione Kalafamoni, Tavis Knoyle, Rob Cook, Ben Morgan.
MUNSTER - Felix Jones; Keith Earls, Casey Laulala, James Downey, Johne Murphy; Ian Keatley, Conor Murray; David Kilcoyne, Damien Varley, BJ Botha, David Foley, Paul O’Connell, Peter O’Mahony (capt), Tommy O’Donnell, James Coughlan.
Replacements used: Duncan Casey, James Cronin, Stephen Archer, Donncha O’Callaghan, CJ Stander, JJ Hanrahan, Simon Zebo.
REFEREE - Leighton Hodges (Wales)