Pro14: Munster 20-16 Edinburgh
|Munster (7) 20|
|Tries: Marshall, Earls Cons: Hanrahan 2 Pens: Hanrahan 2|
|Edinburgh (6) 16|
|Tries: Fowles Con: Van der Walt Pens: Hidalgo-Clyne 3|
Munster overcame an obdurate Edinburgh to progress to an away Pro14 semi-final against Irish rivals Leinster.
The hosts led through Rhys Marshall's early try but two Sam Hidalgo-Clyne penalties cut the interval gap to 7-6.
Keith Earls' converted try on the resumption, brilliantly created by Simon Zebo, and a JJ Hanrahan penalty put Munster 17-6 up after 51 minutes.
A superb try from replacement Nathan Fowles kept the visitors in the hunt, but Hanrahan's penalty sealed victory.
Edinburgh continued to throw everything at Munster into added time, but a remarkable season of regeneration ultimately came to an end.
Munster will face European Champions Cup finalists Leinster in Dublin on 19 May.
The hosts got off to a perfect start - and Edinburgh a nightmarish one - when they seized on a botched line-out from the visitors near their own five-metre line.
Stuart McInally's throw went over the top and was gobbled up by his Munster counterpart, Marshall. The hooker put his head down and smashed his way through to score.
The try, converted by Hanrahan, roused the home support the size of which was, by their exalted standards, a major disappointment.
Thomond Park has a well-earned reputation for the greatness of the backing they receive, but that's predominantly a European Cup backing these days.
Pro14 rugby doesn't galvanise the locals in the same way. Both ends of the ground were unused and even large giveaways couldn't fill the rest of the stadium. There was little coming from the stands to intimidate the visitors.
Edinburgh didn't dwell on coughing up that early try. They settled into it and caused Munster some trouble. Number eight Bill Mata got on the ball, his belligerence dragging Edinburgh forward, Mark Bennett found space up the middle as the visitors created a three-on-one overlap on the outside, an overlap Grant Gilchrist failed to spot.
Still, Hidalgo-Clyne's boot got them back into it. Two penalties in six minutes made it 7-6 at the break.
It could have been better for Edinburgh. After 40 minutes they had 64% possession and 67% territory and their hard running had made Munster miss 19 tackles, whereas Edinburgh had missed five.
The second half began as a mirror image of the first, with Munster taking a firm hold of the match. It was all sparked by Zebo, the local hero playing his final game at Thomond Park before his move to Racing 92 in France next season.
It began with a thumping carry from CJ Stander before Zebo's instinctive brilliance. The full-back retreated to gather the ball, then dinked a little chip over the top of the defence and regathered. Then, the vision. Zebo spotted what was on and delivered a sweeping pass out to Earls running free up the left wing. The Ireland wing stooped and slid in for the score. Marvellous.
The try was converted by Hanrahan from the touchline. The fly-half soon added a penalty to make it 17-6. Not too many visiting teams manage to overhaul that sort of deficit at Thomond Park.
But this Edinburgh side are made in the image of head coach Richard Cockerill. Ultimately they made too many errors to win the game, but they are a crew who have made strides in the psychological aspects.
As the home crowd began to get comfortable with the notion that Munster were on their way, Edinburgh came steaming back into it. Hidalgo-Clyne put over another penalty to narrow the gap and then, off a counter-attack, Blair Kinghorn took Edinburgh into the Munster 22.
Fowles picked up at the base of the breakdown and went for it, evading the outstretched paw of Munster back-row Jack O'Donoghue and running away to score. Jaco van der Walt converted to make it a one-point game with 20 minutes left.
On Friday, Cockerill said that if his team was in contention with 20 to go then they would win. It was a hair-raising prediction and the likelihood of it coming true took a wrong turn when Hanrahan boomed over a penalty from close to 40m to make it 20-16 with eight minutes left.
Munster saw it out from there, but not before Edinburgh put them under the cosh. They got back into Munster's 22, had an attacking line-out, but lost the ball. That was the game right there. All over.
For Edinburgh, there was the consolation of knowing that they are heading in the right direction at last. With John Barclay driving things next season they should continue to improve.
For Munster, on Zebo's day, another semi-final to think about. They have not won a trophy in seven years, but took one step closer to repairing that record here.
They play Leinster in the semi-final, a game to make their fans giddy while, perhaps, gulping hard at the same time.
Munster: S Zebo; A Conway, S Arnold, R Scannell, K Earls; JJ Hanrahan, C Murray; J Cronin, R Marshall, S Archer, J Kleyn, B Holland, P O'Mahony (capt), J O'Donoghue, CJ Stander.
Replacements: M Sherry, D Kilcoyne, C Parker, G Grobler, R Copeland, J Hart, I Keatley, D Sweetnam.
Edinburgh: B Kinghorn; D Fife, M Bennett, C Dean, D van der Merwe; J van der Walt, S Hidalgo-Clyne; J Lay, S McInally (capt), S Berghan, B Toolis, G Gilchrist, M Bradbury, J Ritchie, B Mata.
Replacements: N Cochrane, A Dell, WP Nel, L Carmichael, C du Preez, N Fowles, D Weir, J Johnstone.
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU)