Munster edged Edinburgh while Scarlets thrashed Cheetahs in the PRO14 semi-final qualifiers to book dates with Leinster and Glasgow respectively.
Munster 20-16 Edinburgh
Munster held off a dangerous Edinburgh side to win 20-16 in Limerick, progressing to the final four.
They will now head to the RDS to face their Irish rivals in a fortnight, while Edinburgh bow out of the competition after a fine campaign.
It was a tense opening half, typical of knockout rugby, as both sides kicked frequently and looked to gain an edge in any way they could.
While Edinburgh went in 7-6 down, they had the better of the 40 minutes as only an error led to Munster’s points, with an overthrow from hooker Stuart McInally leading to Rhys Marshall gathering and finishing strongly. With JJ Hanrahan’s conversion the hosts were 7-0 ahead.
Edinburgh came close to hitting back five minutes later when Duhan van der Merwe’s break, which was carried on by Mark Bennett, took them within 10 metres. However, they couldn’t make the resulting overlap count as Munster kept the Scottish side at bay. It was a warning shot.
They would have three points on 19 minutes though when James Cronin was penalised for putting his boot into a ruck, stopping Sam Hidalgo-Clyne’s pass. The scrum-half called for the tee and when Cronin was pinged shortly afterwards for hands in a ruck, the score was now 7-6.
That was how things stayed until the turnaround and despite Hanrahan missing a penalty on 30 minutes, it was definitely Edinburgh on top.
Munster though came out for the second period firing and when Simon Zebo’s brilliant chip, gather and pass found Keith Earls on the left wing, he went over for a well-taken try that was converted from the sideline by Hanrahan. Suddenly the game had changed with Munster 14-6 up.
That lead was extended to 11 points on 51 minutes when Hanrahan added a penalty goal after Edinburgh were penalised for not rolling away. However, Hidalgo-Clyne cancelled that out on 56 minutes in his final act before he was replaced by Nathan Fowles for the closing stages.
The contest would then turn again when the replacement scrum-half raced over for a converted try that made it 17-16 with the conversion.
But Hanrahan’s 73rd minute penalty gave Munster some breathing space at 20-16 and despite a late surge from Edinburgh they could not claim the match-winning try.
Tries: Marshall, Earls
Cons: Hanrahan 2
Pens: Hanrahan 2
Con: Van der Walt
Pens: Hidalgo-Clyne 3
Scarlets 43-8 Cheetahs
Scarlets set up a date with the Glasgow Warriors in the PRO14 semi-finals after they dispatched the Cheetahs 43-8 at Parc y Scarlets on Saturday.
Although the Scarlets finished below the Cheetahs in the season standings, the gulf in class was exposed between the sides as the Cheetahs were comprehensively outplayed in every facet of the game by the defending champions.
The Cheetahs made too many handling errors to ever have a chance of making any real progress. By the time they had got their act together in the last 10 minutes, it was far too late.
After a period of sustained early pressure from the Scarlets, Steff Evans dotted down in the left-hand corner after a quick turnover of possession caught the Cheetahs defence napping with the ball quickly being spread wide through the hands of Hadleigh Parkes and Rhys Patchell before the ball found its way to Evans, who duly obliged with the finish.
They extended their lead to 10-0 with 15 minutes gone after great work done by Munster-bound Tadgh Beirne at the breakdown to win the turnover penalty. Scarlets captain Ken Owens pointed to the posts and Leigh Halfpenny made no mistake with the three-pointer.
Moments after, Clayton Blommetjies spilt possession under pressure. Patchell bounced on the loose ball, working it to Scott Williams who made some good ground. The ball was recycled with openside flanker James Davies making the clean break and playing the final pass for Halfpenny on the overlap out on the right-hand side, who had an easy run-in to the line.
The Cheetahs then managed to hold out until the 36th minute when the ball was ripped away from Ox Nche’s grasp. Try-scorer Evans pounced on the loose ball, weaved his way past a host of Cheetahs defenders before putting a grubber kick through which he collected himself to finish off a superb individual effort. Patchell added the extras as the Scarlets took a 24-3 lead into the interval.
The hosts continued to put the Cheetahs defence under relentless pressure in the second half and scored three further tries. The first came from Tom Prydie who celebrated his return from injury by finishing off a superb team try that involved slick handling and intelligent movement.
The second came from a well-worked lineout driving maul with James Davies going over at the back for the Scarlets’ fifth.
The third came from Jonathan Evans when the substitute scrum-half sniped through a gap to go all the way. Patchell’s conversion made it 43-3 with 20 minutes left.
With five minutes remaining, the Cheetahs finally got themselves a try after a period of sustained pressure with captain Francois Venter playing the skip pass for Scarlets-bound Blommetjies to have the simplest of finishes.
But it was small consolation for a Cheetahs team that looked jaded at the end of their maiden PRO14 season but that will definitely take the positives from their campaign.
Tries: S Evans 2, Halfpenny, Prydie, J Davies, J Evans
Cons: Halfpenny 2, Patchell 3
Yellow Card: Patchell