Composure wins matches. Munster, who have so strong a European tradition, possessed it last night and it ensured their progress to the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup yet again, with one round of pool matches remaining. Edinburgh's failure to score a winning bonus point against Perpignan means that the Irish province cannot be caught (though their superior points difference would have kept them clear of pursuit).
Gloucester fought incredibly hard to sustain their interest in pool six, putting behind them their indifferent domestic form. But for all the enthusiasm of their attacking play, they could not break down Munster where it mattered, in their own 22. The scrum statistics tell the tale of a litany of Gloucester turnovers – Munster put down 12 scrums to Gloucester's three.
Munster's back row also denied their hosts the continuity they needed. So often Dan Robson, who enjoyed a wonderful match at scrum-half for Gloucester, had to dig the ball out of the rucks and the young home backs found themselves forcing the pass.
Whatever Nigel Davies, their director of rugby, told his players during the week that followed Gloucester's clinical dissection by Saracens, it seemed to work.
"I would like to think last week was a watershed for this team," Davies, whose aim is now a top-six Premiership finish, said after yesterday's match. "We have set the bar for intensity and work-rate today. If we [continue to] do that, we have a lot of quality and will win more games than we lose."
The Cherry and Whites made a bright start against the team leading the RaboDirect Pro12, playing a positive, confident brand of rugby that belied their lowly Premiership position and Shane Monahan made the first of many dents in the visiting defence.
The home defence lived up to its reputation as the tightest in Europe (if not in England) and even the set piece seemed sounder than of late. The little things let down Gloucester: the timing of the pass, the lateral running from the back while, twice, Twelvetrees saw 40-metre penalties drift wide.
Munster, with the preponderance of line-out possession, concentrated on working their big ball-carriers into space and Johne Murphy proved a downright nuisance from the left wing. Ian Keatley's game management, too, put the visitors into the dangerous areas of the field and the fly-half opened the scoring with a straightforward penalty after Munster drove a maul. He also laid on the first try. Running to the short side of a ruck, Keatley grub-kicked behind the flat defence and Keith Earls had only to collect the bounce to score.
To be 10 points down was scant reward for Gloucester, so it did them no end of good to score on half-time. After excellent phase play, Robson linked with Matt Kvesic, and Charlie Sharples veered inside two defenders for a delightful try converted by Freddie Burns.
After the break, Munster were distinctly fortunate not to lose Dave Foley to the sin-bin after the lock was penalised for a dangerous tackle then escaped without censure for a collar tackle on Twelvetrees.
But the visitors bided their time, absorbed the pressure then raised the bar. Martyn Thomas had to make a try-saving tackle on Earls, and Conor Murray stole away with Gloucester scrum ball to create the position for a five-metre scrum. At the second time of asking, Peter O'Mahony was driven over the line with Keatley adding the conversion and, eight minutes later, the penalty which made the game safe.
Gloucester M Thomas (R Cook, 59); C Sharples, J May, B Twelvetrees (capt), S Monahan; F Burns, D Robson (T Knoyle, 58); Y Thomas (D Murphy, 59), D Dawidiuk (H Edmonds, 45), S Puafisi (S Knight, 62), E Stooke, J Hudson (T Hicks, 75), M Cox (S Kalamafoni, 51), M Kvesic, G Evans (B Morgan, 51).
Munster F Jones; K Earls (J J Hanrahan, 75), C Laulala, J Downey, J Murphy (S Zebo, 68); I Keatley, C Murray (D Williams, 80); D Kilcoyne (J Cronin, 65), D Varley (D Casey, 77), B J Botha (S Archer, 68), D Foley (D O'Callaghan, 68), P O'Connell, P O'Mahony (capt; C J Stander, 75), T O'Donnell, J Coughlan.
Referee Leighton Hodges (Wales)
Tries: Earles, O'Mahony
Cons: Keatley 2
Pens: Keatley 2Reuse content