Celtic Cup final: O'Gara restores Munster's pride

Munster 27 - Llanelli Scarlets 16
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Munster salvaged their pride following a disappointing season by lifting the Celtic Cup at Lansdowne Road.

Munster salvaged their pride following a disappointing season by lifting the Celtic Cup at Lansdowne Road.

Ronan O'Gara capped a timely comeback from injury ahead of the British and Irish Lions tour by scoring 17 points, including a try, to inspire a winning send-off for his coach Alan Gaffney.

The Scarlets threatened to pull off a surprise when Mike Phillips scored a try, and Ceiron Thomas's boot helped spark a second-half fightback. But their hopes were ended when the veteran centre Mike Mullins crashed over six minutes from time to hand Munster the trophy.

Perhaps the Scarlets' coach, Gareth Jenkins, would have done well to spend more time this week on preparing for this game than on a row with the Neath-Swansea Ospreys. Jenkins was accused by the Ospreys' manager Derwyn Jones of entering the Irish referee Donal Courtney's changing room during last Saturday's semi-final.

The bitter war of words that broke out overshadowed the Scarlets' preparations for this final and it showed during an error-strewn first-half that allowed O'Gara to prove his fitness to Sir Clive Woodward less than three weeks before the Lions' opening game.

Ireland's outside-half had lost none of his composure in front of goal following a two-month lay-off with a knee injury, and put in a commanding performance, taking a full set of scores by half-time.

O'Gara's delivery to Anthony Horgan saw the wing pass outside one Scarlet then inside another for the opening try inside six minutes. O'Gara converted from out wide and was soon stepping up again, this time to convert his own try as Llanelli's defence buckled under considerable strain.

Rob Henderson and Anthony Foley provided the brute force, David Wallace the momentum and O'Gara the finishing touch after rounding the sizeable shape of prop Phil John, who was left guarding an even larger space on the try-line.

When the Scarlets finally managed to string a series of passes together, they found their way over the line. The Tongan centre Aisea Havili went close before scrum-half Phillips touched down.

That galvanised the Welsh team, who had Munster on the back foot for much of the second half. Thomas kept the scoreboard ticking over, until Mullins burst through six minutes from time.

Munster: S Payne; P Devlin (D Leamy, 61), M Mullins, R Henderson, A Horgan; R O'Gara, P Stringer; M Horan (G McIlwham, 28), F Sheahan, J Hayes, D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell, A Quinlan, A Foley (capt), D Wallace.

Llanelli: B Davies; G Evans, M Watkins, T Selley, A Havili (S Finau, 54); C Thomas, M Phillips; P John, M Rees (A Gravelle, 68), J Davies, V Cooper, C Wyatt (A Jones, 62), S Easterby (capt), A Powell (G Quinnell, 54), G Thomas.

Referee: Joel Jutge (France).

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