Munster power past Edinburgh
PRO12 SATURDAY WRAP: Ireland scrumhalf Conor Murray scored a try-double for Munster but it was the Irish province's pack that came to the fore in this comfortable 28-14 bonus-point victory over Edinburgh.
The win, Munster's third of the season, moved them up fifth on the standings, while Edinburgh are currently languishing in eighth.
In Saturday's other matches, Cardiff Blues maintained their 100 percent Pro12 record as they clung on to beat Zebre 23-21 in an enthralling encounter at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi.
The Blues had won just one of their last eight matches in Italy and while they couldn't relax until the final whistle, Danny Wilson's men did just enough to leave Parma with the four points.
In Wales, Liam Williams' try double secured a 17-8 win for Scarlets as they earned a first Pro12 win of the season and condemned champions Connacht to 12th place.
Niyi Adeolokun's first-half score had cancelled out Williams' first converted try, before Jack Carty's penalty gave Connacht a one-point half-time advantage.
But Wayne Pivac's side looked a different animal after the second-half, piling the pressure on a resilient Connacht side who eventually crumpled when Williams grabbed his second before Rhys Patchell turned the screw with a drop goal.
Munster 28-14 Edinburgh
Edinburgh centre Chris Dean scored the game's opening try but Munster responded immediately through Conor Murray – and didn't look back from there.
Murray completed his double – both tries coming off the back of fierce scrum pushes – and academy product Conor Oliver showed neat footwork to notch Munster's third shortly after the break.
The bonus point was all wrapped up with 25 minutes to go, as Dave O'Callaghan surged over to cap a fine day for the Munstermen before John Hardie grabbed a consolation score.
Edinburgh were always facing a stiff task against a Munster side that had not been beaten in 2016 at Thomond Park thus far.
And they had to weather an early storm as the hosts won a scrum against the head only for flyhalf Tyler Bleyendaal to push the three points on offer wide.
After some promising play from both sides were snuffed out by the opposing defences, Edinburgh lock Fraser McKenzie received a yellow card for making contact with Jack O'Donoghue’s head – who was subsequently replaced by Oliver.
However, Munster could not make their man advantage count and were let off the hook when Duncan Weir's long-range penalty attempt went awry.
Their luck was to run out shortly after as Dean ran in uncontested from halfway in the 23rd minute after the ball squirted out of the side of a ruck, with Weir adding the extras.
There were no signs of panic among the Munster ranks though as their pack took full advantage of an Edinburgh offside and powered over from five metres out – Murray applying the dab down.
Bleyendaal's conversion made it all square and, after a period of attrition, Munster made their forwards dominance pay again.
Edinburgh failed to secure the ball after another powerful Munster push at the scrum and the opportunistic Murray was the first one to pounce over the tryline. Bleyendaal's conversion sent the hosts in at the break 14-7 up.
Upon the restart it took just two minutes for Munster to strike again as Bleyendaal, with two players hanging off him, offloaded to flanker Oliver who ghosted past Weir for the score.
After Bleyendaal's conversion, the game reverted to type as the away side struggled to fend off Munster's scrum and a series of penalties saw prop Allan Dell yellow carded.
Ultimately nothing came of the move, but by the 57th minute the bonus point was sealed as O'Callaghan charged through after finding space.
Munster continued to look dangerous – through wing Darren Sweetnam in particular – but Edinburgh to their credit refused to give up.
Hardie, on as a replacement, rumbled over with a little more than ten minutes to go and the score would stay at 28-14 after Blair Kinghorn's conversion.
Tries: Murray 2, Oliver, O'Callaghan
Cons: Bleyendaal 4
Tries: Dean, Hardie
Cons: Weir, Kinghorn
Munster: 15 Ian Keatley, 14 Darren Sweetnam, 13 Keith Earls, 12 Cian Bohane, 11 Ronan O'Mahony; 10 Tyler Bleyendaal, 9 Conor Murray, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Jack O'Donoghue, 6 Dave O'Callaghan, 5 Billy Holland (captain), 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 John Ryan, 2 Niall Scannell, Dave Kilcoyne.
Replacements: 16 Duncan Casey, 17 James Cronin, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Donnacha Ryan, 20 Conor Oliver, 21 Duncan Williams, 22 Dan Goggin, 23 Alex Wootton.
Edinburgh: 15 Glenn Bryce, 14 Damien Hoyland, 13 Michael Allen, 12 Chris Dean, 11 Tom Brown, 10 Duncan Weir, 9 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 8 Cornell Du Preez, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Magnus Bradbury, 5 Ben Toolis, 4 Fraser McKenzie, 3 Kevin Bryce, 2 Stuart McInally (captain), 1 Rory Sutherland.
Replacements: 16 Neil Cochrane, 17 Jack Cosgrove, 18 Allan Dell, 19 Lewis Carmichael, 20 John Hardie, 21 Sean Kennedy, 22 Blair Kinghorn, 23 Rory Scholes.
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Gwyn Morris (Wales), Mark Patton (Ireland)
Zebre 21-23 Cardiff Blues
A lively first half saw Guglielmo Palazzani's close-range try give Zebre the lead before Blaine Scully and Matthew Morgan got the Blues on top at the break.
Tom James' score early in the second half looked to have sealed the contest but when Giulio Bisegni and Giovanbattista Venditti dotted down, the visitors were forced to hold on for the final five minutes.
But hold on they did and now sit second in the Pro12 table, level on points with leaders Ulster and yet to taste defeat this term.
Zebre were leading Connacht 22-10 at half-time last week before the match was abandoned due to bad weather and they picked up where they left off in Parma.
Carlo Canna and Steve Shingler had already traded three-pointers when the hosts booted an 11th-minute penalty to touch and, from the resulting five-metre line-out, scrum-half Palazzani burrowed over from close-range.
Canna failed to add the conversion but Blues kicker Shingler was also errant from the tee as he pushed two penalty chances wide before finally finding his mark on 22 minutes to narrow the deficit to 8-6.
And when Oliviero Fabiani was sentenced to ten minutes in the sin-bin, the visitors capitalised as Scully crossed the whitewash after strong work from the forwards following a line-out.
Shingler duly slotted the conversion and despite Josh Turnbull seeing yellow, the 14 men of Cardiff got a second try five minutes before the break.
They showed great patience to go through a number of phases before Cory Allen deftly grubbered the ball through and Morgan pounced to dot down.
Edoardo Padovani did slot a penalty on the stroke of half-time to reduce Zebre's deficit but the Blues came out firing after the break and flying wing James stripped the ball in contact before racing into the corner unopposed for a 23-11 lead.
But the Italian outfit are nothing if not resilient and a long Canna pass put Bisegni over in the corner to narrow the gap to seven points.
Rey Lee-Lo wasted a golden opportunity to put the game to bed with 12 minutes remaining as his pass failed to find the waiting Scully and Zebre capitalised on 75 minutes.
Nick Williams knocked on close to his own line and, despite a desperate scramble, Venditti was released to go over in the corner – although Padovani failed to add the tying conversion.
And Blues did enough to see out the final few minutes as they beat Zebre for the sixth time in nine Pro12 meetings.
Tries: Palazzani, Bisegni, Venditti
Pens: Canna, Padovani
For Cardiff Blues:
Tries: Scully, Morgan, James
Pens: Shingler 2
Zebre: 15 Edoardo Padovani, 14 Gabriele Di Giulio, 13 Giulio Bisegni, 12 Tommaso Boni, 11 Giovanbattista Venditti, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Guglielmo Palazzani, 8 Derick Minnie, 7 Johan Meyer, 6 Maxime Mbandà, 5 Federico Ruzza, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys (captain), 3 Pietro Ceccarelli, 2 Oliviero Fabiani, 1 Andrea Lovotti.
Replacements: 16 Tommaso D’Apice, 17 Bruno Postiglioni, 18 Dario Chistolini, 19 Valerio Bernabò, 20 Jacopo Sarto, 21 Carlo Engelbrecht, 22 Tommaso Castello, 23 Kayle Van Zyl.
Cardiff Blues: 15 Matthew Morgan, 14 Blaine Scully, 13 Cory Allen, 12 Rey Lee-Lo, 11 Tom James, 10 Steven Shingler, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Sam Warburton (captain), 6 Josh Navidi, 5 Josh Turnbull, 4 George Earle, 3 Scott Andrews, 2 Matthew Rees, 1 Rhys Gill.
Replacements: 16 Kristian Dacey, 17 Gethin Jenkins, 18 Taufa’ao Filise, 19 Macauley Cook, 20 Ellis Jenkins, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Gareth Anscombe, 23 Garyn Smith.
Referee: David Wilkinson (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Frank Murphy (Ireland), Luca Trentin (France)
Scarlets 17-8 Connacht
The two sides were inseparable for 20 minutes in a scrappy first-half, but it was one of the stars of Connacht's title charge last year – Niyi Adeolokun – who broke the deadlock.
Connacht's pack had been gradually getting the upper-hand and a strong scrum put Pat Lam's men in position, before slick hands from prop Denis Buckley sent Adeolokun haring over.
Jack Carty missed the conversion and was off target again, before Scarlets fought back through Liam Williams.
The initial impetus came from Aaron Shingler, the flank collecting a wide pass and bursting through the Connacht defence.
When the ball was recycled, slick hands between brothers James and Jonathan Davies sent Williams over under the posts, which Rhys Patchell converted.
Scarlets were growing into the game, but Connacht were at their dogged best, captain John Muldoon intervened critically on 53 minutes with a goal-line turnover that relived vast amounts of pressure.
Ken Owens' break looked potentially game-breaking and when the ball found Williams on the flank, one outcome looked likely, but he was denied by a stunning Tiernan O'Halloran cover-tackle.
Yet Wayne Pivac's men continued to pile forward and despite heroic defence, the men from Galway could not escape their tryline.
Williams then made amends for missing out, with a textbook finish on 66 minutes on the touchline and Patchell found his kicking boots to convert superbly, taking the hosts 14-8 ahead with less than 15 minutes remaining.
An ever-more influential Patchell then thumped over a drop-goal to move Scarlets beyond a converted score.
Tries: Williams 2
Cons: Patchell 2
Scarlets: 15 Aled Thomas, 14 Liam Williams, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 John Barclay, 7 James Davies, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 David Bulbring, 4 Jake Ball, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Ken Owens (captain), 1 Wyn Jones.
Replacements: 16 Ryan Elias, 17 Luke Garrett, 18 Peter Edwards, 19 Lewis Rawlins, 20 Morgan Allen, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Scott Williams, 23 Will Boyde.
Connacht: 15 Tiernan O'Halloran, 14 Niyi Adeolokun, 13 Bundee Aki, 12 Eoin Griffin, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 John Muldoon (captain), 7 Jake Heenan, 6 Ultan Dillane, 5 Andrew Browne, 4 Quinn Roux, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Tom McCartney, Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Ronan Loughney, 18 JP Cooney, 19 Lewis Stevenson, 20 Eoin McKeon, 21 Caolin Blade, 22 Shane O'Leary, 23 Cian Kelleher.
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Keith Allen (Scotland), Leighton Hodges (Wales)
TMO: Jim Yuille (Scotland)