Saturday 22 July 2017

Tony Ward: It pains me to say it, but Scarlets’ massacre of our best sides is good for the game

'Aside from Francis Saili (pictured) – who, injury allowing, has been unfairly treated all season – Andrew Conway, and to a lesser extent Conor Murray, the rest weren’t mapped.' Photo: Sportsfile
'Aside from Francis Saili (pictured) – who, injury allowing, has been unfairly treated all season – Andrew Conway, and to a lesser extent Conor Murray, the rest weren’t mapped.' Photo: Sportsfile
Tony Ward

Tony Ward

I heard it suggested in the immediate aftermath of the Guinness Pro12 final that although the Scarlets deserved to win, the Welshmen were flattered by the scoreline. Get a grip.

This was a rugby massacre. I'll try to be fair and constructive here. Munster were awful in the Aviva Stadium on Saturday, every bit as bad as Leinster had been just around the corner against the same opposition eight days earlier.

But first we should acknowledge another scintillating display of attacking rugby from the Scarlets - the most complete unit in the Pro12.

From an Irish viewpoint, thank God the Welsh national team doesn't play like that.

I was attracted to rugby in the late '60s and early '70s when the Welsh played with such elan. Yes, it was built on the steel of men from Pontypool, Newport, Aberavon and Swansea, but central to the winning style was the panache of Cardiff and Llanelli.

For Ray Gravell, JJ Williams, Phil Bennett, Barry John et al then, read Liam Williams, Jonathan Davies, Scott Williams, Steff Evans, Rhys Patchell and Gareth Davies now.

Wales is still my favourite rugby-playing nation. World Rugby needs the Welsh at their best, and so too the Pro12. What transpired over the last fortnight is good for the game at every level.

The Scarlets didn't just beat the best of the Irish, they demolished us Paddies. They are worthy successors to Glasgow Warriors and Connacht as Pro12 champions from outside the recent strongholds.

Coach Wayne Pivac has inspired the Scarlet revolution in the same way that Gregor Townsend and Pat Lam worked wonders with Glasgow and Connacht respectively.

I'd like to think he will eventually get the Welsh job; I love the way he goes about his business.

But back to Munster. Where to begin? As I watched this great rugby institution being systematically taken apart, it reminded me of the 33-10 massacre at Saracens two years ago.

The defeat to the same opposition in the Aviva last month was bad, but that day in Allianz Park was the lowest of the low.

On Saturday in the Aviva it felt the same because Munster had the advantage of studying in forensic detail what the Scarlets did to Leinster and still they couldn't cope.

Whatever way you dress it up, it doesn't strike me as very professional.

This was the polar opposite to that day and that display in Thomond against Glasgow back in October.

I don't accept Simon Zebo's line that "the occasion got to us". Give us a break.

Aside from Francis Saili- who, injury allowing, has been unfairly treated all season - Andrew Conway, and to a lesser extent Conor Murray, the rest weren't mapped.

Maybe it is connected to the ankle injury he shipped against Toulouse, but CJ Stander has recently been a shadow of the player we know him to be.

As for Tyler Bleyendaal, despite his try, this was a second below-par performance on the biggest stage at the Aviva. The jury is set to remain out for a significant time to come.

I sat in the stand on Saturday puzzled during that lop-sided first-half while the crowd around me clapped as first Bleyendaal and then Zebo kicked away possession in the attacking half into touch.

What possesses a team to kick away possession and give the opposition free ball, especially when that opposition has a smoothly-functioning line-out?

In that department, and in many other key respects (not least his try), just how good was Tadhg Beirne? I fully support those wild geese who of necessity travel abroad to follow the dream, learn the trade and make good.

Hats off to the Kildare man, who was simply immense.

The inability to track off Saili's step and offload summed up a side bereft in attack. Munster need to invest in a top-quality centre irrespective of Irish-qualified status.

And by top quality I mean an established international who much like Dougie Howlett will fit into the Munster culture and help develop the next generation of centres.

To reach a European semi-final and Pro12 decider in this incredibly emotional season represents some achievement for Rassie Erasmus, but in the final analysis 'the emperor had no clothes' and the attacking cupboard bare.

Irish Independent

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