Tuesday 28 January 2020

Draw secures play-off for Reds


Munster couldn't extend their run of wins over the Scarlets to 15 in all competitions against them since 2007 as they got the draw that guaranteed them a ticket to the Pro 12 play-off semi-finals.

All that needs to be decided in the final round of matches in two weeks' time is who they play. A strong defensive display frustrated the home side, who were still pushing for a top-four finish, and two pieces of clinical finishing in the first half put them on the back foot after a bright start.

The Scarlets drew first blood when they turned deep defence into devastating attack. Having robbed Munster hooker Mike Sherry of the ball 10 metres out from their posts, Liam Williams chipped out of the 22, Adam Warren and George North carried on to the visitors' 22 and then quick hands allowed Sean Lamont to cross for a try which Rhys Priestland converted.

In the blink of an eye the home side had created something out of nothing, yet they seemed to close their eyes when Munster came calling with two attacks in the home 22.

Donnacha Ryan bulldozed his way through Priestland to grab a try back and then wing Simon Zebo popped up on the inside of Ian Keatley to take a pass and run through four would-be tacklers to score a second that was confirmed by the TMO.

Outsidehalf Keatley converted both and added a penalty to give Munster a 10-point lead at the end of the first quarter. Priestland landed a penalty of his own to reduce the deficit, but another one went the wrong side to leave the champions with a useful interval lead.

The defensive action in the second half was even better, especially as they had lost the effervescent Tommy O'Donnell with a neck injury before the break, and they further frustrated the home side when they tried to bridge the gap in the third quarter.

The Scarlets knew they needed to score next, but instead they coughed up another penalty and saw Keatley extend the lead after 54 minutes. The home side needed a breakthrough and the old campaigner Stephen Jones provided the craft and precision needed to create an opening with a perfectly timed pass to backrow man Aaron Shingler who galloped 25 metres to the line.

Priestland added the simple conversion and the temperature rose. The Scarlets still had it all to do, but a 45-metre penalty from Priestland levelled the scores with less than 10 minutes to go.

As the Scarlets went in for the kill, so Munster stood their ground and thwarted every charge. They fully deserved their two points and need only to beat Ulster in the final round to avoid a dreaded trip to Dublin to face Leinster in the semi-finals.

Scorers -- Scarlets: S Lamont, A Shingler tries, R Priestland 2 pens, 2 cons. Munster: D Ryan, S Zebo tries, I Keatley 2 pens, con.

Scarlets: L Williams; G North, A Warren, S Jones, S Lamont; R Priestland, G Davies; R Jones (S Gardiner 74), M Rees (capt, E Phillips 61), D Manu (P John 65), S Timani (K Murphy 55), D Day, A Shingler, J Turnbull, B Morgan.

Munster: F Jones (I Dineen 65); L O'Dea, J Murphy, L Mafi, S Zebo; I Keatley, C Murray (T O'Leary 61); D Kilcoyne (W du Preez 52), M Sherry, BJ Botha (S Archer 71) M O'Driscoll (D O'Callaghan 67), P O'Connell (capt), D Ryan, T O'Donnell (P Butler 37), P O'Mahony.

Referee: A Rolland (Ire).

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