Quins rattle the Thomond fortress

Munster 15 - Harlequins 9
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The Independent Online

There is life in Harlequins. They are not giving up the ghost just yet. Something definitely stirred them at Thomond Park yesterday. But Munster's phenomenal unbeaten record in the Heineken Cup remains intact.

There is life in Harlequins. They are not giving up the ghost just yet. Something definitely stirred them at Thomond Park yesterday. But Munster's phenomenal unbeaten record in the Heineken Cup remains intact.

They have never lost at their Limerick base, but they came a lot closer to it than they would have liked as the London side hammered away, pinning them in their own 22, and even on their line, for uncomfortable eternities.

The Munster forwards lacked some of the fire of past seasons and the backs fell short of the searing pace and acute angles of previous teams. But for a long time things did not go well for Quins, despite taking an early lead through their own man of Munster, Jeremy Staunton, with a 10th-minute penalty. His first attempt at goal three minutes earlier had sailed wideof the posts to the mocking taunts of the home crowd.

The scrum was providing a few problems, and after a few awkward ones referee Hugh Watkins dismissed Munster loosehead Marcus Horan and Harlequins tighthead Maurice Fitz Gerald for 10 minutes contemplation of their scrummaging techniques. That proved something of a turning point in the match. Until then Munster had been strangely subdued by their own passionate standards, but that yellow made them see red. Suddenly they erupted. A molten tide of red shirts poured upfield and stayed there. They won a penalty, tapped and went and Rob Henderson fed Anthony Horgan, who had looped over to the right side of the field.

Munster then squeezed even harder, Quins creaked, groaned and finally fell offside once too often for the referee's liking and Staunton was shown a yellow. While he was cooling his heels Munster flanker Jim Williams, who had a cracking match, picked up and broke away at a ruck, drew the cover, then nonchalantly flicked the ball with his left hand to openside Denis Leamy, Ireland's next big back row hope, and the 22-year-old stormed over, Ronan O'Gara converting.

Although the remainder of the first half saw Munster dominating, their only other points came from an O'Gara penalty, which possibly gave Quins new heart, because their anticipated capitulation had not happened and they played the second half like a team that had had its backside kicked during the interval.

They really got into the Munster half and faces, so close at times that the sell-out crowd held its breath in case Quins used it to get over the line. But close is not enough. While the home side conceded two further penalties to Staunton, Quins' discipline let them down yet again. They had a third player sin-binned, replacement hooker Ace Tiatia, just two minutes after coming on. At Thomond Park you need every man on to the pitch.

Munster: C Cullen; M Lawlor, J Kelly, R Henderson, A Horgan; R O'Gara, P Stringer; M Horan, F Sheahan, J Hayes, T Hogan, P O'Connell, J Williams (A Quinlan, 63), A Foley (capt), D Leamy (G McIlwham, 12-22).

Harlequins: G Duffy; G Harder, W Greenwood, D James, S Keogh; J Staunton, So'oialo; C Jones, T Fuga (A Tiatia, 56), M Fitz Gerald (M Worsley, 28), R Winters, S Miall (O Palepoi, 72), N Easter (M Worsley 12-22; Fuga, 60-69; L Sherriff, 69), T Diprose, A Vos (capt).

Referee: H Watkins (Wales).

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