Monday 17 December 2018

Pack power the difference as Munster get the better of the Scarlets

Munster 19 Scarlets 7

Billy Holland of Munster is greeted by supporters after the Guinness PRO14 Round 18 match between Munster and Scarlets at Thomond Park in Limerick. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Billy Holland of Munster is greeted by supporters after the Guinness PRO14 Round 18 match between Munster and Scarlets at Thomond Park in Limerick. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

A reported crowd of 14,215 at Thomond Park got to witness a bizarre PRO14 match where the TMO hardly got a moment's peace. Four times he had Munster touchdowns referred to him. Two got the thumbs up and the home team prevailed in a game where they needed their forwards to ride to the rescue.

It was a triumph of grunt over width, and in the second half the home side used the direct approach of their pack to change the game. The two halves were polar opposites. And on reflection Munster will wonder how they missed out on the bonus point.

Given the lopsided stats on territory and possession Munster were doing well to be just two points off Scarlets at the break. For the opening quarter they could hardly lay a hand on the away side whose width and accurate passing put the Munster defenders in big trouble in the wide channels.

It took Scarlets just seven minutes to turn their dominance into points. Tom Williams and Rhys Patchell combined nicely to put scrumhalf Aled Davies over close to the posts. The scrumhalf survived a tackle just short of the target but did well to finish, and the extras from the outhalf out Scarlets 7-0 clear.

It seemed almost inevitable they would add to that with all the ball they had to play with. Maybe that's how they felt about it because they lacked the killer touch when they had Munster stretched in the 22.

On one of those occasions they were almost done for seven points at the far end. On 18 minutes Alex Wootton deflected forward a Patchell pass out the back and then gathered it to race 80 metres to score. Inevitably ref Marius Mitrea went upstairs, and after much deliberation ruled the try out as a knock-on.

When Munster next were in a similar situation, 10 minutes later, they got a better result. This time James Hart went off the back of a five metre scrum, found himself isolated, but despite getting hammered on the line the TMO gave him the benefit of the doubt.

Keatley shanked the conversion but Munster were happy enough to be in touch. Improving on that would require a radical shift in approach, or a bit of individual brilliance. Man of the match Robin Copeland provided some of the latter.

Having been guilty of giving away a daft penalty shortly before half time -Patchell hit the post with his shot - the number eight intercepted a promising Scarlets attack in his own 22, and then popped up on the end of some round the corner rugby at the far end to score. Keatley's conversion put Munster 12-7 ahead.

If their pack had enjoyed a good gallop in the build-up to Copeland's try then they seemed to enjoy drilling the Scarlets back for a penalty at the next scrum. With both sides changing front rows en bloc it offered a different contest. It would have changed further had James Davies been carded for a trip on Sammy Arnold - perhaps the TMO was influenced by the fact that Arnold had no chance of getting onto his own kick ahead.

The TMO was back in action on 67 minutes when ruling out a try for James Cronin, after replacements Rhys Marshall and Dave O'Callaghan did very well in the build-up. It was borderline double movement and had the crowd going mad.

They hadn't calmed down by the time Wootton got over again in the corner, courtesy of a brilliant pass by Stephen Fitzgerald. This one came back positive.

Munster: JJ Hanrahan; C Nash (S Fitzgerald 73), S Arnold, R Scannell, A Wootton; I Keatley, J Hart (J Stafford 79); D Kilcoyne (J Cronin 54), R Marshall (N Scannell 54), J Ryan (S Archer 54), J Kleyn (G Grobler 69), B Holland (capt), J O'Donoghue, R Copeland, T O'Donnell (D O'Callaghan 48)

Scarlets: T Williams (D Jones 63); T Varndell, S Williams (capt), P Asquith, S Evans; R Patchell, A Davies (J Evans 60); D Evans (P Price 54), R Elias (E Phillips 54), S Lee (W Kruger 54), T Beirne (L Rawlins 63), D Bulbring, A Shingler (J McLeod 54), W Boyde, J Davies

Referee: M Mitrea (Italy)

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