Earls hat-trick sets up Munster rout
PRO14 REPORT: Keith Earls crossed for a first-half hat-trick as Munster made light work of Edinburgh on Friday – winning 44-14, their sixth win on the spin.
In addition to Earls’ treble – which took him to 50 career tries in the red of Munster – Andrew Conway also crossed twice and Chris Farrell marked his first start after injury with a try in a totally dominant first-half showing.
Duhan van der Merwe’s fine solo score was Edinburgh’s sole response as Munster opened up a 34-7 half-time lead.
Van der Merwe did bag a second at Irish Independent Park after the interval, but Munster replacement Tyler Bleyendaal also dotted down in a second half that was far more even than the first.
The final try of the night went to Ireland centre Farrell – injured during the Six Nations but back to his best now – as he barged clear for his second and Munster’s eighth.
Johan van Graan had made eight 11 changes to the XV that ran out bonus-point winners in Zebre last weekend and one of the new faces made an immediate impact.
Outside centre Farrell – in his first start following injury – powered over having been found by another returnee Conor Murray after Billy Holland’s initial break.
A second Munster try was not long in coming, Conway charging clear after JJ Hanrahan’s clever inside pass released him.
Three minutes later and Conway had a second, Arno Botha with the initial burst and then clever hands from Farrell and Hanrahan creating an overlap from which Conway profited in the right corner.
At 19-0 after only 19 minutes, it was getting ugly quickly for Edinburgh but they summoned a response through van der Merwe who brushed off Mike Haley and Chris Cloete for a super score.
That was a false dawn for the visitors, however, who ran Munster so close in last year’s semi-final qualifier at Thomond Park.
Earls got the first of his treble in the left corner, again found by Murray after the Munster rolling maul had taken them up to the line.
His second was made by Farrell’s burst and Haley’s inside pass and his third came just before the break, scooting clear down the left wing after yet more good work from Haley and Conway.
The only misstep of the first half was Hanrahan’s goal-kicking, the fly-half missing four of six conversions and it was 34-7 at the interval.
Cockerill’s Edinburgh side have not won on their travels since March but they were much improved after half-time.
Scrambling defence denied both Murray and Earls and the hour mark came and went with no scores to speak of.
However, another man returning from injury in Bleyendaal did get over in the left corner before van der Merwe did the same for his second up the other end.
And it was fitting on a sublime return to the starting XV that man of the match Farrell finished off proceedings with his second after another bullocking run.
Tries: Farrell 2, Conway 2, Earls 3, Bleyendaal
Cons: Hanrahan 2
Try: Van der Merwe 2
Con: Van der Walt, Baggott
Munster: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Rory Scannell, 11 Keith Earls, 10 JJ Hanrahan, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Arno Botha, 7 Chris Cloete, 6 Peter O’Mahony (captain), 5 Billy Holland, 4 Tadhg Beirne, 3 John Ryan, 2 Niall Scannell, 1 Dave Kilcoyne.
Replacements: 16 Kevin O’Byrne, 17 Jeremy Loughman, 18 Ciaran Parker, 19 Fineen Wycherley, 20 Gavin Coombes, 21 Duncan Williams, 22 Tyler Bleyendaal, 23 Sammy Arnold.
Edinburgh: 15 Dougie Fife, 14 Tom Brown, 13 George Taylor, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Nathan Fowles, 8 Luke Hamilton (captain), 7 Lewis Wynne, 6 Ally Miller, 5 Callum Hunter-Hill, 4 James Hodgson, 3 Murray McCallum, 2 David Cherry, 1 Rory Sutherland.
Replacements: 16 Ross Ford, 17 Darryl Marfo, 18 Pietro Ceccarelli, 19 Callum Atkinson, 20 Senitiki Nayalo, 21 Sean Kennedy, 22 Jason Baggott, 23 Chris Dean.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Adam Jones (Wales), Stuart Gaffikin (Ireland)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (Ireland)