Munster leave it late
London Irish just 12 minutes from historic victory
Last Updated: 22/01/11 6:21pm
Denis Hurley on the burst
Munster scored three tries in the last ten minutes to beat London Irish 28-14 at Thomond Park on Saturday.
Victory secured Munster a place in the Amlin Challenge Cup but that will be scant consolation for a side that has qualified for the knockout stages of the Heineken Cup every year for more than a decade.
But they missed out this year, hence this low-key occasion at a ground that would normally be buzzing with anticipation for a round six pool tie.
That lack of familiar atmosphere looked set to play its part in a rare home defeat.
Irish were just 12 minutes away from becoming only the second team to beat Munster in a Heineken Cup tie at Thomond Park, before the hosts finally roused themselves.
The Exiles captain Seilala Mapusua scored a try and set up the second for Sailosi Tagicakibau as the visitors edged into a 14-7 lead, after a scoreless first half.
But Munster hit back decisively with late tries from Niall Ronan, Keith Earls and replacement Darragh Hurley.
Dan Bowden was short with a 45-metre penalty attempt in a dour first half, after John Hayes was penalised in the scrum, and the New Zealander also flicked a drop-goal attempt wide of the uprights.
There was plenty of endeavour from both sides, but handling errors made for a scrappy and disjointed spectacle.
From a well-orchestrated maul three minutes before the break, the Munster forwards pressed and Damien Varley was held up over the try-line by a combination of Mapusua and Elvis Seveali'i.
Hooker Varley was thwarted again in the final minute - television match official Derek Bevan making the decision this time - and although Keith Earls got over in the corner in injury-time, Lifeimi Mafi's scoring pass was ruled forward.
On the resumption, Tomas O'Leary drove Munster forward with a break in midfield. A subsequent penalty was dispatched to touch, and Varley plunged over for his deserved try after another forceful maul.
O'Gara knocked over the conversion from the right of the posts, before Irish responded through their forwards. Their efforts went unrewarded however, Chris Hala'ufia's break from a five-metre scrum ruined by an accidental offside.
Then the game burst into life. Mapusua reacted quickest after O'Leary's clearance kick was charged down by Jamie Gibson and the Samoan touched down in the left corner.
Bowden followed up with the conversion to make it 7-7, right on the hour mark, and Irish, who ended their 10-match losing run against the Ospreys last Sunday, were suddenly on top.
In the 67th minute, Mapusua did brilliantly to dink a kick ahead, gather the ball at pace and link with Topsy Ojo whose pass out of the tackle gave Tagicakibau an easy run-in past O'Gara.
Replacement Ryan Lamb added the difficult conversion, and a famous victory was tantalisingly close for Toby Booth's men. But Munster had other ideas, and they were helped on their way by a yellow card for Gibson.
Immediately, Munster hit back with their second try. Replacement Tony Buckley was held up short, before flanker Ronan picked from the ruck and dived over with O'Gara converting.
Three minutes later, they had another. Paul O'Connell stole a lineout and rampaged through the middle and O'Gara's superbly-weighted kick to the corner was touched down by Earls.
O'Gara coverted and added a further two points in injury-time, after prop Hurley had muscled past Paulica Ion and Paul Hodgson to score.