O'Connell's pack put Munster in pole position

Scarlets 14 Munster 17

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The Independent Online

Just when you think Munster might be vulnerable, they put themselves in pole position to win their Heineken Cup pool and roll on to another great European adventure.

Two unbeaten teams went head to head in front of a record Heineken Cup crowd in Llanelli, but only one of them had the know-how to make it three wins from three. In doing so, Munster took charge of Pool One and a repeat at Thomond Park next week should send them through.

"It's a hell of a win for us and we are absolutely thrilled with it, but we are fully aware it's only half-time," said Paul O'Connell, Munster's captain (pictured). "There is nothing like a loss to focus the mind so I'd imagine next week will be an incredibly tough game."

Scarlets expectations were high after wins over Castres and Northampton, but the loss of the Wales wing George North before the game was a blow and the way the French referee, Romain Poite, interpreted the breakdown was a killer. There was no quick ball for the Scarlets back line to work with and it became a night of frustration for the home coaches and fans. Munster did what they do best and loved every minute of the battle.

Ronan O'Gara celebrated his 100th Heineken Cup appearance with a 12-point contribution but it was O'Connell's forwards who won the day. The captain said: "I thought our pack was excellent. We got a lot of yardage from our scrum and some points from our scrum.

"It's massively important we have got a home game next but it's not like we are running away with any games. Every game is a fight to the death. There is no danger of us getting ahead of ourselves."

Munster had needed last-gasp drop-goals from O'Gara to beat the Saints and Castres and there seemed to be chinks in their armour. Added to that, they arrived at Parc y Scarlets without five front-line players. But the worst thing you can do in the Heineken Cup is write off Munster. Even though they had to weather an opening storm which saw the Scarlets race into an 8-0 lead and miss another five points with the boot, they did not panic and they worked out how to frustrate their hosts. The Munster pack dominated possession and played havoc with the Scarlets' ball.

After a fifth-minute try from Aaron Shingler, the Welsh region did not really come close to getting another. The quick-thinking Shingler popped up in the Munster 22 after Jonathan Davies had hacked on, after an uncharacteristic mistake from the visitors. That score gave the home side real heart, although the conversion miss by Rhys Priestland went alongside an earlier penalty miss.

Those lost points could have made all the difference and Priestland was wide again in the second half, before he handed the kicking to Stephen Jones. O'Gara kicked two penalties in the first half, either side of a Niall Ronan try on the right touchline, and that was enough to give Munster an 11-8 interval lead.

With their scrum taking charge, and the back-row trio of Peter O'Mahony, Ronan and James Coughlin causing havoc at the breakdown, Munster had the upper hand. Priestland levelled the scores 10 minutes into the second half as the Scarlets rallied but they were making too many handling errors and conceding too many penalties. O'Gara kept hitting the spot and the lead returned to Munster. Jones set up a grandstand finish with a penalty, but Munster held their defensive line superbly.

The Scarlets ran out of steam and the visitors ran down the clock to make it three wins from three and go two points clear at the top of the pool. If it was an unlucky 13th straight defeat by Munster for the Scarlets, they dare not lose a 14th. If they do, their Heineken Cup adventure will be more or less over.

Scarlets: D Newton (S Jones, 58); L Williams (V Iongi, 76), S Williams, J Davies, S Lamont; R Priestland, G Davies (T Knoyle, 58); I Thomas (P John, 63), M Rees (capt; K Owens, 63), R Thomas (D Manu, 76), S Timani (K Murphy 63), D Welch, A Shingler (J Edwards, 46), B Morgan, R McCusker.

Munster: D Hurley; J Murphy, W Chambers (D Barnes, 56), L Mafi, S Zebo; R O'Gara, C Murray (T O'Leary, 63); W du Preez (M Horan, 76), D Varley, B Botha (J Hayes, 77), D Ryan (D O'Callaghan, 56), P O'Connell (capt), P O'Mahony (D Leamy, 41), J Coughlan, N Ronan.

Referee: R Poite (France).