Friday 23 March 2018

Munster get timing just right to seal Euro place

Munster 31 Scarlets 15

CJ Stander applauds the crowd after the game. Photo: Sportsfile
CJ Stander applauds the crowd after the game. Photo: Sportsfile
Gareth Davies is tackled by Simon Zebo and Dave O'Callaghan. Photo: Sportsfile
Liam Williams is tackled by Keith Earls. Photo: Sportsfile
Francis Saili acknowledges supporters after scoring his side's first try. Photo: Sportsfile
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

A grim day in Limerick on the weather front, but an enthusiastic crowd of roughly 15,000 were rewarded with a decent game and, more importantly, the right result for the Reds. It guarantees them a place in next season's European Champions Cup. It wasn't until the 69th minute the home fans started to feel safe, thanks to a TMO try decision in favour of captain and man of the match CJ Stander.

That put them two scores clear against a side who were playing plenty of rugby, but getting very little for their efforts. It also put them in bonus territory. Before the day was out Rory Scannell would get over for his second try - and Munster's fifth - giving the crowd added value for their efforts. The shortage of bodies on the terraces has been an issue for Munster this season, but the players had reason to be thankful to those here yesterday who paid to get soaked.

"It is disappointing to be playing for sixth place but there has been a lot learned," Stander said. "A lot of players have stepped up for us this season and that will help us down the road when this team gets back into semi-finals and finals."

When the supporters signed on at the start of the season, their ambitions at least would have stretched to their team being involved in the last four of the Guinness Pro 12, whatever about getting a decent run in Europe. At this point they are probably happy enough for it all to be over, and the prospect next season of at least dining at the top table.

It wasn't an armchair ride, despite what the scoreline might suggest. Into the wind in the first half, the home team traded second best on lots of levels, but managed remarkable efficiency when opportunities arose. And it wasn't as if they simply swapped places with Scarlets after the break, only getting to enjoy themselves down the final straight.

For Johnny Holland it was a tricky day out. Clearly the young outhalf has something about him, and perhaps the best thing he will take from this is that he didn't go into his shell when very little was going right. It was just as well then that inside him Conor Murray was good, and outside him Rory Scannell, who has had a very good season, was having another productive afternoon.

It started pretty badly for Munster. They had lost two players inside nine minutes - hooker Niall Scannell and flanker Tommy O'Donnell - both on HIAs. And Scarlets were all over them like a rash.

Scarlets' initial play was to send Hadleigh Parkes speeding down Johnny Holland's channel, which more often than not gave them the go-forward they wanted. Thereafter they mixed it up well between attacking close-in and trying to stretch the Munster defence.

For the opening nine minutes this kept the home team pinned inside their own half, and mostly in their own 22, at which point Shingler took three points from a penalty.

Scarlets were almost immediately back looking for more, and going the right way about it, when they were turned over a couple of metres from Munster's line. The consequences were massive.

Francis Saili was immediately up for the counter attack, and the speed with which he got the ball from hand to foot, and the quality of the grubber kick for Keith Earls that followed, was top drawer. From there the winger drew the last man and gave it back to Saili who sprinted home from 60 metres.

Its effect was evident when normal business was resumed, for even when Scarlets picked up where they left off - in the Munster half - and Shingler tacked on another penalty on 20 minutes, the home team were still in front.

Moreover they had got another bit of luck when referee Nigel Owens overruled, correctly, a Steffan Evans try in the corner, having spotted the forward pass that facilitated it. The interesting bit was he picked it up himself on the replay having opted not to send it upstairs.

Rory Scannell's first try, on 23 minutes, gave Munster a 14-6 lead, and two more penalties from Shingler saw the home team still with their noses in front at the break.

That in itself must have been a huge boost to them given the way Scarlets had dominated territory and possession in the first 40. Holland pulled a penalty in the first minute of the new half, but when prop Stephen Archer managed to avoid any penalty for apparently tripping Shingler in the Munster 22, you felt the result was going with the supporters.

A try on the hour from replacement Ronan O'Mahony pushed Munster out to 19-12 before Captain Stander showed impeccable timing on 69 minutes. It has been a premature end to the season for Munster, but in the circumstances one they were happy with.

Scorers - Munster: R Scannell 2, Saili, P O'Mahony, Stander try each; J Holland 3 cons; Scarlets: S Shingler 5 pens.

Munster: S Zebo (I Keatley 64); A Conway (R O'Mahony 25-31, blood; 38), F Saili, R Scannell, K Earls; J Holland), C Murray (D Williams 58); D Kilcoyne (J Cronin 56), N Scannell (M Sherry 4), S Archer (J Ryan 71), D Foley (R Copeland 62), B Holland, D O'Callaghan, CJ Stander (capt), T O'Donnell (J O'Donoghue 9)

Scarlets: L Williams; G Owen, S Hughes, H Parkes, S Evans (A Thomas 72); S Shingler, A Davies (G Davies 53); R Evans (D Evans 76), K Owens (capt), P Edwards (R Jones 68), J Ball, D Bulbring (M Allen 55), L Rawlins (T Price 64), J Barclay, J Davies

Referee: N Owens (Wales)

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