Munster gobbled up and spat out by breathtaking Scarlets

Rassie Erasmus’s side blitzed by four tries in the first half by electric Welsh outfit

Scarlets secondrow Tadhg Beirne scores his side’s fourth try  in the Guinness Pro 12 Final against Munster at the Aviva stadium. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Scarlets secondrow Tadhg Beirne scores his side’s fourth try in the Guinness Pro 12 Final against Munster at the Aviva stadium. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

 

Scarlets 46 Munster 22

This was not the final that had been anticipated, in any way, shape or form. But not alone did Scarlets poop Leinster’s party last week, they thoroughly filleted Munster’s defence with a vibrant display that all but secured the trophy after barely half an hour. At this point they were already 29-3 ahead against stunned opponents.

In the process, they racked up a record winning margin in a Guinness Pro12 final. Indeed, six tries to three hardly tells the story. The Scarlets’ ability to punish Munster’s sloppiness in possession with their passing skills, lines of running and width frequently outflanked a ragged and narrow Munster defence.

For the second weekend running, their superbly balanced backrow of their athletic man of the match Aaron Shingler, ubiquitous openside James Davies and ball-playing captain John Barclay again eclipsed the home backrow.

Operating outside of the polished Gareth Davies and Rhys Patchell, Scott Williams and Jonathan Davies did untold damage, while the outside backs just coasted through proceedings.

The Scarlets’ support play and intensity made Munster look curiously sluggish and weary. This was not how they had wanted to end such an emotional rollercoaster of a season, but they hardly fired a shot until it was too late.

The anti-climactic second half was played out to a backdrop of constant West Walian singing from the celebrating Scarlets fans, as the region claimed their second title and first since 2004, thereby extending Munster’s trophy draught dating back to 2011.

The generous sprinkling of red around the ground, mostly Munster amid some Scarlets, outnumbered the empty green seats, which were inevitable given the absence of Leinster from the decider, as well as the heavy rain which fell until about an hour before kick-off. There was a moment’s silence in memory of those who died in the Manchester Arena bombing.

The Scarlets’ menace from deep, especially off turnovers, was manifest from the start, as Rory Scannell’s defensive read when shooting off the wing as last man prevented the Scarlets from breaking out, and then when they did Munster were indebted to Conor Murray’s good tackle on James Davies.

Munster were also sloppy in possession from the off, although Andrew Conway’s knock-on did lead to a strong Munster scrum at which Samson Lee was pinged for dropping to the ground. An extra 10 metres for Gareth Davies tossing the ball away made Tyler Bleyendaal’s opening three-pointer all the easier.

However, after Munster’s failure to secure Patchell’s attacking restart, the outhalf used the free play of an advantage against CJ Stander for not rolling away with a beautifully weighted kick which found Keith Earls isolated and narrow on the wing for Liam Williams to score.

The missed conversion from wide out didn’t dilute the day’s first rendition of Land of My Fathers from the West Walians in the crowd.

Bleyendaal angled a touchfinder to the corner, but the Scarlets exited assuredly. Munster went to their maul and Murray’s box-kicking in turn, yet each led to the Scarlets attacking from deep after first they ripped the ball for a turnover and then Johnny McNicholl countered when the scrumhalf overcooked his kick. Munster were indebted to first Murray’s covering and then Francis Saili’s defensive read, albeit with a hint of a deliberate knock-on.

But after a Patchell penalty all these warning signs came to light. First, when Dave Kilcoyne carried and John Ryan’s clear-out only succeeded in knocking the ball forward, the Scarlets went wide left off the turnover just outside their 22. This time Saili and Conway couldn’t get off their wing in time to stem the break out as Jonathan Davies rounded the isolated Niall Scannell. The Lions centre twice exchanged passes with Steff Evans for the latter to score his 13th Championship try. Patchell converted.

Emboldened, not least by the narrowness and near disarray of the Munster defence, the Scarlets looked to attack from anywhere, and not just off turnovers.

This time, James Davies’s skip pass enabled Jonathan Davies to outflank the isolated Peter O’Mahony, and after another exchange between Steff Evans and the centre, scrumhalf Gareth Davies failed to hold onto the final pass.

A sizeable hill almost became mountainous.

But it soon did in any case after Murray had been harshly pinged for a delayed put-in, even if at first Scott Williams’s pass to the unmarked Steff Evans was blown off course. Soon though, the inside centre blasted through John Ryan, whose presence prevented Saili making the tackle, and passed inside for Gareth Davies to score with one of his trademark trailers. Patchell converted before the Scarlets heaped further embarrassment on Munster to effectively win the game with barely half an hour gone.

This time the turnover and damage emanated from Tommy O’Donnell not holding onto the ball in contact, as Scott Williams’s kick in behind forced a five-metre scrum. A few phases later there appeared no danger when the former Leinster lock Tadhg Beirne received the ball with a wall of blue in front of him. But Kilcoyne slipped off his tackle and Beirne bounced off CJ Stander before taking Niall Scannell over the line. Patchell’s conversion made it, incredibly, 29-3 after 31 minutes.

Cue an even more raucous rendition of Land of My Fathers, with no counter from the stunned Munster supporters.

Munster finally came to the party, Saili coming alive when latching onto Simon Zebo’s clever crossfield dink and then taking a couple of good hard lines and offloading back to Bleyendaal. When they kicked a penalty to the corner near half-time, the crowd still believed.

This led to a scrum, with 39 minutes gone. To maintain a sliver of hope, they had to score. Jaco Taute trucked it up hard, and Saili’s hard, inside line checked Scarlets’ defence for Bleyendaal to drift out onto Murray’s pass and score by the posts for a cleverly worked try. Bleyendaal’s conversion reduced the Scarlets’ handsome lead to 29-10.

They also needed to score first after the resumption, but instead when they again failed to secure ruck ball, in trying to regain it Donnacha Ryan was penalised for going off his feet and Patchell made it 32-10.

With that the Scarlets slowed the game down and took the sting out of any fightback, with Munster still looking a little shell-shocked and feeding off scraps.

Conway made one great take in the air, and then a cleverly worked cross-kick by Murray breaking off a scrum found space in behind, with Scott Williams flapping the ball back under pressure from Conway, who along with Earls followed up to force a five-metre line-out.

When Patchell broke off the maul in a mini three-man maul, and was hauled down just short of the line, James Davies made no attempt to roll away. But after recourse to the TMO, Nigel Owens reversed the penalty for the no-arms clear-out by O’Mahony. That was definitely that.

You knew Munster had given up the ghost when Zebo was replaced just past the hour. The normally ebullient fullback has rarely looked so glum. Bleyendaal and Saili each failed to hold onto the greasy pill when looking to break from deep.

From the scrum which followed the latter, once again the Scarlets made the ball stick like glue. The replacement halves, Jonathan Evans and Hadleigh Parks worked the ball right to left yet again where Scott Williams’s straight line and flick-on enabled Jonathan Davies to release DTH van der Merwe, and he outflanked Jaco Taute, cut inside Keatley and fended Jack O’Donoghue for another all-too-easy try.

Much of the Red Army disconsolately made for the exits, although plenty stayed for consolation long-range tries by Conway, finishing neatly after Saili and Rhys Marshall combined to release him, and Earls, before James Davies fittingly had the final say when latching onto a loose ball to run in the final try from 40 metres.

SCORING SEQUENCE – 7 mins Bleyendaal pen 3-0; 9 mins L Wiliams try 3-5; 19 mins Patchell pen 3-8; 20 mins Evans try, Patchell con 3-15; 27 mins G Davie try, Patchell con 3-22; 31 mins Beirne try, Patchell con 3-29; 40 mins Bleyendaal try and con 10-29; (half-time 10-29); 45 mins Patchell pen 10-32; 70 mins van der Merwe try, L Williams con 10-39; 75 mins Conway try 15-39; 78 mins Earls try, Keatley con 22-39; 80 mins J Davies try, L Williams con 22-46.

MUNSTER: Simon Zebo; Andrew Conway, Francis Saili, Rory Scannell, Keith Earls; Tyler Bleyendaal, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell, John Ryan; Donnacha Ryan, Billy Holland; Peter O’Mahony - capt., Tommy O’Donnell, CJ Stander.

Replacements: Jaco Taute for R Scannell (5-12 and 28 mins), Jean Deysel for O’Donnell (45 mins), Stephen Archer for J Ryan (46 mins), Jack O’Donoghue for Holland (53 mins), Rhys Marshall for N Scannell (55 mins), Ian Keatley for Zebo (61 mins), Brian Scott for Kilcoyne (68 mins), Duncan Williams for Murray (72 mins).

SCARLETS: Johnny McNicholl; Liam Williams, Jonathan Davies, Scott Williams, Steff Evans, Rhys Patchell, Gareth Davies, Rob Evans, Ryan Elias, Samson Lee, 4 Lewis Rawlins, Tadhg Beirne, Aaron Shingler, James Davies, John Barclay (capt).

Replacements: Werner Kruger for Lee (28 mins), Wyn Jones for R Evans, Jonathan Evans for G Davies (both 52 mins), Hadleigh Parkes for Patchell (55 mins), DTH van der Merwe for S Evans (57 mins), David Bulbring for Rawlins, Will Boyde for Barclay (both 62 mins), Emyr Phillips for Elias (72 mins).

Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales).

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