Saturday 21 April 2018

Scarlets make shell-shocked Munster suffer after devastating display clinches PRO12 title

Scarlets 46 Munster 22

Munsters' Peter O'Mahony during the Guinness Pro12 final at the Aviva Stadium
Munsters' Peter O'Mahony during the Guinness Pro12 final at the Aviva Stadium
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

On their biggest day, Munster were humiliated at the Aviva Stadium.

Their long wait for a trophy goes on after they reserved their worst performance for the final day of the season and, like Leinster a week ago, were well beaten by a brilliant Scarlets team who are deserved Guinness PRO12 champions thanks to this record final winning margin.

The Welsh side follow Connacht and Glasgow Warriors before them in being rewarded for their positive approach in the final.

Two years ago in Belfast, Munster were hammered by the Scots in this fixture and history repeated itself in Dublin.

The game-plan that served them so well in the winter failed them badly for the second time at this venue. This was the defeat Saracens might have inflicted last month, but the Scarlets’ passes stuck where the European champions didn’t.

Munster were humbled in April, but they would have been confident of being able to bully the men in red on final day. Instead, Wayne Pivac’s side ignored the difficult conditions to attack brilliantly and run in four first-half tries.

In doing so, they exposed the area that had been Rassie Erasmus’s side’s strength all season: their defence. Their kicking game and ball-focus weren’t great either.

Whatever analysis they’d done on the Scarlets didn’t work for Munster who were exploited time and again out wide. They made 11 missed tackles and for good measure Tadhg Beirne powered through three tacklers to score the kind of try Munster pride themselves on not conceding.

It was inaccurate, it was desperate and it was nowhere near good enough. For the second time in a big game at the Aviva Stadium, they failed to fire a shot and all of the considerable progress they’ve made this year went out the window.

Erasmus leaves the Aviva Stadium filled with new questions about his team as he prepares to lose three internationals this summer. He did an excellent job in his first season, but the scale of the task in front of him is suddenly a very different one.

The brilliant Scarlets were undeterred by the day’s rain-fall and approached the game in the same way as they did a week ago at the RDS last week.

Their handling was good, but their first venture in Munster territory was ended by a superb Francis Saili poach and the opening score came at the other end where Samson Lee collapsed the scrum, Gareth Davies was penalised 10m for lip and Tyler Bleyendaal knocked over a simple penalty.

Scarlets hit back almost immediately, capitalising on a poor Saili kick to touch; attacking from the lineout and then exploiting their advantage when CJ Stander off their feet as Rhys Patchell delivered an exquisite chip into Liam Williams’ path and he timed his run perfectly to score.

The out-half missed the penalty and as the game developed a real contrast in styles developed as Munster kicked frequently and the Scarlets looked to run at every opportunity and when they did they looked increasingly dangerous.

Patchell added to their lead when Niall Scannell went off his feet at a breakdown in front of the posts and minutes later they scored a sensational try, punishing a sloppy turnover as great hands from Irishman Tadhg Beirne released Jonathan Davies up the left.

He drew Andrew Conway and fed Steff Evans who returned the favour. Simon Zebo caught the Lion, but he had the composure to find Evans again and the youngster completed a sensational score.

Patchell converted and the Scarlets should have pulled further ahead with another brilliant move up the left. This time Earls corner-flagged Evans and he fed James Davies but the flanker’s final pass to Aaron Shingler went to the floor.

The reprieve didn’t last as Conor Murray delayed his feed into the scrum and Nigel Owens reversed the scrum but this time Scott Williams’ final pass to Evans drifted into touch with the line gaping.

It didn’t put the Scarlets off and Scott Williams brushed offJohn Ryan’s tackle and sent Gareth Davies under the posts and after a Television Match Official Review, Owens awarded the try.

Patchell made it 22-3 and Rassie Erasmus sent Jaco Taute on for Rory Scannnell in an attempt to shore up their defence.

The waves of attack just kept coming, Johnny McNicholl chipped in behind and then hunted Earls down and then the Scarlets enveloped Taute behind his own line.

Munster got the shove on in the scrum, but John Barclay picked and went, before Kildare man Beirne shrugged off a Dave Kilcoyne’s tackle and then took CJ Stander and Niall Scannell over the line with him as he scored the Welsh side’s fourth try.

Again, Patchell added the extras and with 31 minutes gone the game already looked beyond Munster.

Shell-shocked, they looked to play their way back into it and Simon Zebo’s beautiful cross-kick found Saili wide but he couldn’t hold on after breaking Liam Williams’ tackle.

Finally, they got their hands on the ball and kept it and Murray’s linebreak caused problems for the Scarlets but Zebo failed to spot a massive over-lap on the right, going the other way and Niall Scannell knocked on.

Taute and Bleyendaal charged a Patchell clearance down and the Scarlets played the ball on the deck, allowing the New Zealander kick to the corner.

The Welshman repelled the maul and as they tried to steal, they knocked it on. From the scrum, Murray worked a switch move with Taute, before Murray sent Bleyendaal through a gap and under the posts for a vital score and the Kiwi added the conversion as Owens signalled half-time.

Munster needed to hit the ground running after the break, but a Dave Kilcoyne knock-on and poor ball protection at the bottom of a ruck led to Peter O’Mahony conceding a penalty for Patchell to make it a four-score game.

The Irish province might have drawn closer if Saili had spotted Andrew Conway on his shoulder after a line-break, but instead Beirne brilliantly forced a penalty on the deck and although, Patchell missed touch, James Davies ended the next attack with another excellent turnover.

As time worked against them, Munster continued to probe and good work from Steff Evans denied them after Andrew Conway’s pressure forced Johnny McNicholl to bat Murray’s clever kick back and Jonathan Evans cleared.

He didn’t get much distance and Munster turned to their maul and the Scarlets brought it down,  but a silly elbow-drop from O’Mahony saw Owens turn the penalty the other way.

The clock kept ticking and the lead stayed at 22 points. The Welsh region controlled the tempo and field position and Munster’s fight ebbed away.

The Scarlets finished with a flourish, with replacement DTH van der Merwe exploiting more shocking Munster wide defence, taking Scott Williams’ pass, stepping inside Bleyendaal, beating Jean Deysel for pace and fending off Jack O’Donoghue’s last-ditch tackle to score.

Patchell converted and the Scarlets fans began to celebrate. Conway and Ealrs pulled late tries back, but even they couldn't make the scoreboard look respectable on a day to forget for Munster and James Davies' last minute try summed up the occasion.

Somehow, it seems unlikely any of Munster fans in the 44,558-strong crowd will be forgetting this one.

MUNSTER – S Zebo (I Keatley 61); A Conway, F Saili, R Scannell (J Taute HIA 5-12, 28), 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 (capt), T O’Donnell (J Deysel 45), CJ Stander.

SCARLETS – J McNicholl; L Williams, Jonathan Davies, S Williams, S Evans (DTH van der Merwe 58); R Patchell (H Parkes 55), G Davies (J Evans 52); R Evans (W Jones 52), R Elias, S Lee (W Kruger 28); L Rawlins (D Bulbring 63), T Beirne; A Shingler, James Davies, J Barclay (capt) (W Boyde 62).

Referee: N Owens (Wales)

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