Saturday 21 October 2017

Scarlets leave Munster red-faced

Munster 22 Scarlets 46

Munster’s Tommy O’Donnell is tackled by Werner Kruger and Ryan Elias during the PRO12 final at the Aviva Stadium yesterday. Photo: Ramsey Cardy
Munster’s Tommy O’Donnell is tackled by Werner Kruger and Ryan Elias during the PRO12 final at the Aviva Stadium yesterday. Photo: Ramsey Cardy
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

Not exactly a match made in the boardroom of Celtic Rugby, who had hoped for a full house attending Leinster versus Munster, and to compound it we got a game where the issue was put to bed with a penalty goal in the 44th minute. Thereafter Scarlets shifted from wide-wide mode to percentage rugby. It was a luxury they could afford thanks to a first-half performance that outranked anything we've seen in the short history of this competition.

So, having stunned Leinster a week ago, they did the same to Munster, with a few things in common between the two performances: excellent defence, brilliant counter attacking and consistency off the tee. You could have got them at 3/1 during the week, and you'd imagine a few of their supporters waded in on that one.

Tadhg Beirne of Scarlets celebrates at the final whistle. Photo: Sportsfile
Tadhg Beirne of Scarlets celebrates at the final whistle. Photo: Sportsfile

With only one title to their credit - in 2004 - they weren't anyone's favourites to bridge that gap this season but they have played some cracking rugby in doing just that. And they were by far the better side here, with two Munster tries, from Andrew Conway and Keith Earls in the last few minutes - before James Davies had the final say for Scarlets - putting a slightly more competitive look on the scoreline.

By that stage a good number of the 44,458 crowd had headed off. That may have been the number of tickets sold but it's unlikely we had that many in from the start, some of them probably put off by the morning of biblical rain, which can't have done much for the walk-up crowd either. It had cleared by kick-off and handling didn't seem to be an issue. Well, for Scarlets it wasn't.

Munster on the other hand spilled it from all angles. Billed as the ideal platform for them to round off what has been a fine season, born in tragic circumstances, they had a miserable time of it. Their plan had been to batter Scarlets into submission but they could neither hang on to the ball nor pin them down. There wasn't a crumb of comfort they could take away from this, their third defeat from three games at this venue this season.

For the red hordes the first half was a sobering experience during which they, bit by bit, were preparing themselves for defeat. And in the second half they never got started either. The opening 40 had only two positives for them: the first was that on the buzzer they finally got over the Scarlets' line; the second was that the stunning scoreline - despite that try and conversion from Tyler Bleyendaal - of 29-10 could have been worse. Early in the second quarter with the away side already 15-3 ahead, they twice went close to scoring before on 27 minutes Scott Williams made a clean break for Gareth Davies to get over.

Munsters' Peter O'Mahony during the Guinness Pro12 final at the Aviva Stadium. Photo: PA Wire
Munsters' Peter O'Mahony during the Guinness Pro12 final at the Aviva Stadium. Photo: PA Wire

Bizarre events like this usually carry a couple of crazy stats. Munster's was that by half-time they had missed 11 tackles. It didn't tell you how many of those occurred in the wide channels, where Munster were trying to get a hand on Scarlets, who had just shifted the ball there and taken off like an express train.

If Leinster had known that Scarlets' rush defence was something they needed to cope with - and didn't - then Munster knew that pumping the ball into their opponents' half, without it being on the money and supplemented by a good chase, was a risky business.

The same went for losing the ball in contact. It didn't matter where that turnover would occur, Scarlets treated them all (Munster conceded nine in each half) as an opportunity to counter-attack.

So when on the half-hour mark Tommy O'Donnell lost it in contact half a mile from his own line, he suddenly found himself packing down to a defensive five-metre scrum. And less than a minute after that he was lining up behind his own posts after Tadhg Beirne - living proof that there is life after Leinster - rolled out of a couple of tackles to score. It was the Scarlets' fourth touchdown of the half, starting with a brilliant score by Liam Williams, matched for style then by Steff Evans, and with a penalty from the excellent Rhys Patchell in between it was the dream first quarter for the away side.

When Patchell knocked over a penalty four minutes into the second period it put his side 22 points clear. It would have needed a natural disaster to knock them out of their stride. But instead of an earthquake all we got was that late tremor with the tries for Conway and Earls. It was fitting that James Davies should restore order before the final whistle.

Scorers - Scarlets: L Williams try, 2 cons, S Evans, G Davies, Beirne, Van der Merwe, J Davies try each; Patchell 2 pens, 3 cons; Munster: Bleyendaal try, pen, con, Conway, Earls try each; Keatley con

Munster: S Zebo (I Keatley 61); A Conway, F Saili, R Scannell (J Taute 5- 12 HIA; 29), K Earls; T Bleyendaal, C Murray (D Williams 72); D Kilcoyne (B Scott 68), N Scannell (R Marshall 55), J Ryan (S Archer 46), D Ryan, B Holland (J O'Donoghue 53), P O'Mahony, CJ Stander, T O'Donnell (J Deysel 46).

Scarlets: J McNicholl; L Williams, J Davies, S Williams, S Evans (DTH van der Merwe 58); R Patchell (H Parkes 55), G Davies (J Evans 52); R Evans (W Jones 53), R Elias, S Lee (W Kruger 29), L Rawlins (D Bulbring 62), T Beirne, A Shingler, J Barclay (capt) (W Boyde 62), J Davies.

Referee: N Owens (Wales)

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