Munster secure European passage with Scarlets victory

Anthony Foley’s team capitalise on Welsh mistakes to seal their Champions Cup place

Munster 31 Scarlets 15

Not many dreams or songs to sing as low lying Munster only just earn the right to visit elite fields of Europe next season.

The decisive score took an hour to land. And it only came after two sloppy errors by Welsh hands gifted Rory Scannell a yard of open country. The gifted young centre freed his right arm to put Ronan O'Mahony sprinting away.

That made it 19-12.


No dominant force here. That meant the most desperate, most vigilant pack was always going to engineer victory. CJ Stander’s much maligned Munster eight did enough to cast some doubt on the reputation they have earned all season long.

So Munster sneaks into the Champions Cup. A stronger league than this Pro 12 offering - and there are two in close proximity - would have seen them denied this privilege (it is certainly no longer their right). The Premiership and Top 14 would probably have seen Anthony Foley’s team embroiled in a relegation scrap.

A penny for Rassie Erasmus’s thoughts? Maybe when he arrives in high summer for the first preseason purely based in Limerick.

From kick-off it looked like the visiting Scarlets would dominate but Munster fronted up to manufacture a tenuous two-point interval lead.

The first try on 13 minutes came wildly against the run of play. It woke the slumbering Limerick crowd. Jack O'Donoghue, in for a concussed Tommy O'Donnell, brought the physicality that was badly needed in the face of relentless pressure in the Munster 22. The flanker's tackle loosened the ball and suddenly there was a two man overlap five metres from the Munster try line. Conor Murray abandoned his instinctive kicking nature to go short side where Francis Saili wonderfully exposed the scramble defence with a gentle left footed grubber that allowed Keith Earls gather at full sprint.

After gliding over halfway, Earls drew the last Welsh defender, Liam Williams, before returning the favour so Saili could gallop under the posts.

It was an aberration. The strong men from Llanelli thundered back into Munster territory but the try they had been promising never came as Hadeigh Parkes’ forward pass to left wing Steffan Evans was eventually spotted. Nigel Owens actually awarded the score but as Steve Shingler lined up the conversion the crowd were enraged by the big screen replay. Owens changed his mind.

From the resulting scrum Munster were penalised so Shingler did reduce arrears to 7-6 despite the swirling rain.

That brought Munster to life. Most importantly Stander started charging like a rhinoceros with ball tucked under his arm. Dave O’Callaghan also broke the Welsh line in a strung out attack that eventually saw Rory Scannell change direction and dive over for the second try. Johnny Holland converted to make it 14-6, making the opening quarter malaise seem irrelevant.

Still, the Scarlets stayed in touch when Shinlger hit his third penalty from 40 metres.

Munster bodies were feeling the strain; Andrew Conway followed O’Donnell and other Head Injury Assessment candidate Niall Scannell off the field.

The game was motoring now. Dave Kilcoyne was immense in the tackle, yet poor in the scrum, with the entire Munster defence finally developing a horseshoe shape that forced error through most brutal means. Dave Foley looked a man possessed.

Still, the conditions and collective skill-sets ensured an error strewn contest. An occasion where the least mistakes would prevail.

For a change that was Munster.

Shingler made it 14-12 after Saili was punished for the attempted choke tackle on Parkes when he was unable to roll away as trapped under a stack of bodies.

That was the opening 40 minutes. Ulster led the Ospreys at Liberty stadium 21-14 so concerns of a late Welsh uprising were being allayed.

The second half begun with a smashing Earls tackle on Gareth Owen which led directly to Holland’s first penalty. He lofted the ball across the uprights.

Munster have bemoaned some refereeing decisions this season but not here. Owens went to the big screen after Shingler disappeared from view having chipped the onrushing Munster defence. Stephen Archer tripped the outhalf as Earls came to the rescue but Owens was unable to make a definitive decision despite viewing the replay. Play on.

They all did, poorly, like teams desperately in need of infusions of quality and confidence.

Not the Munster backs, mind, who delivered excellence off the scraps that came their way. See Scannell finding O’Mahony for the third try.

Earls, also, was superb again.

Shingler ensured the tightest finish with his fifth penalty but Munster went back to their eternal comfort blanket with Stander peeling off the maul for a try to finally make it a two score game with 11 minutes remaining.

The last action saw man of the match Stander peel off a scrum to send Scannell over for a well earned try.

The official attendance was 18,929. That includes Munster’s season ticket holders, who number close to 10,000, but quite clearly not many faithful were interested in braving the grey, damp outdoors.

Those who did looked relieved more than anything else.

A bad, bad season but disaster avoided.

Scoring sequence - 9 mins: S Shingler pen, 0-3; 13 mins: F Saili try, 5-3; J Holland con, 7-3; 21 mins: S Shinlger pen, 7-6; 25 mins: R Scannell try, 12-6; J Holland con, 14-6; 28 mins: S Shingler pen, 14-9; 37 mins: S Shingler pen, 14-12. Half-time. 59 mins: R O’Mahony try, 19-12; 64 mins: S Shingler pen, 19-15; 68 mins: CJ Stander try, 24-15; 78 mins: R Scannell try, 29-15; J Holland con, 31-15.

MUNSTER: S Zebo; A Conway, F Saili, R Scannell, K Earls; J Holland, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, N Scannell, S Archer; D Foley, B Holland; D O'Callaghan, T O'Donnell, CJ Stander (capt). Replacements: M Sherry for N Scannell (2 mins, HIA), J O'Donoghue for T O'Donnell (9 mins, HIA), R O'Mahony for A Conway (26-33 mins, blood and 38 mins), J Cronin for D Kilcoyne (55 mins), D Williams for C Murray (57 mins), R Copeland for D Foley (61 mins), I Keatley for S Zebo (63 mins), J Ryan for S Archer (71 mins).

SCARLETS: L Williams; G Owen, S Hughes, H Parkes, S Evans; S Shingler, A Davies; R Evans, K Owens (capt), P Edwards; J Ball, D Bulbring; L Rawlins, J Davies, J Barclay. Replacements: G Davies for A Davies (52 mins), M Allen for D Bulbring (54 mins), T Price for L Rawlins (63 mins), R Jones for P Edwards (68 mins), D Evans for R Evans (75 mins).

Referee: N Owens (WRU).

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent