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Rampant Scarlets deserving winners of Guinness PRO12

By Aidan Corr
Aviva Stadium
Guinness PRO12 Championship final:
Munster 22, Scarlets 46
FOUR tries in a first half blitz by the Scarlets had them in the driving seat, but the outcome of this thrilling final was still very much in the balance despite the 10-29 scoreline. The first score of the second half was always going to be crucial and when that went also to the Scarlets, the game was up for Munster.
In boxing terms, Munster were left barely standing for most of the opening half, the Welsh running in four super tries and also butchering two other try chances that, if taken, would have really put the outcome out of reach. Barclay was winning the battle in the back-row against Stander, Munster could not get their wings into action and there were far too many errors from the province. The Welsh side, who had never played in the new Aviva Stadium, were leading the Irish a merry dance but could Munster pull back a 19-point deficit to bring the tie into extra time? The Scarlets played clever rugby as we went into the final quarter, happy to play for territory, slow down the game as much as possible and forcing the Irish to concede possession back to them. The number of knock-ons from Munster continued to mount and with then minutes remaining there was a sad feeling of despair from the southern province and the Scarlets put a further mail in their coffin when replacement van den Merwe skated past some weak tackles and Liam Williams’ conversion pushing the lead to 10-39.
Munster needed the first score of the second period, and quickly. They tried hard but they were penalised for holding on at a ruck and Rhys Patchell’s penalty from three metres outside the 22 increased the visitors’ lead to 32-10 with 44 minutes played. It was not the start that Rassie would have asked for. Although the game was not lost yet, Munster needed to be closer to the 22 point deficit in the third quarter. Munster got a rare turnover to set up an attack but Munster’s attacks were more frantic than fluid. Rassie rang the changes but taking off John Ryan, who was having an absolute blinder, was questionable. On 55 minutes Munster had a decent chance of a seven pointer. Jack O’Donoghue had brought more pace to the pack, Deysel was prominent but the Scarlets withstood the pressure, forcing a defensive penalty. Andrew Conway ran clear for a well-taken individual try with less than five minutes to go but the 15-39 scoreline told the true story of this one-sided decider. Earls intercepted for another late Munster try, converted by Keatley but the time was almost up and the game was up for this Munster side. A try by open side James Davies and conversion by Liam Williams sealed the victory for the rampant Scarlets before a record crowd for the Guinness PRO12 final.
It was a lively start, a lot of early running by the Scarlets which was spoiled when Rhys PLatchell was whistled for holding, Munster set up their first score of the game with six minutes played. The Welsh side was awarded a put-in on the home ten metre line but referee Evans pointed to Samson Lee as he whistled for a penalty plus ten metres for mouthing. Tyler Bleyendaal gave Munster a 3-0 lead from the simple kick. The Scarlets replied with a try a few minutes later. Patchell planted a well-placed kick into the path of right wing Liam Williams and he finished with ease in the right hand corner. Patchell missed the conversion. 3-5 to the visitors with ten minutes on the clock.
The Scarlets were holding their own throughout the field and they got a chance to go ahead when John Ryan played the ball on the ground, Rhys Patchell splitting the posts to edge them 3-8 to the good on 18 minutes. When Dave Kilcoyne was turned over near his own 22, the Scarlets set up the best try of the game. Jonathan Davies ran the ball down the left and with the Munster defence in shreds, Steph Evans went in for a try which Patchell converted to increase the lead to 15-3. The Welsh should have been a further try ahead from the restart, Evans again tearing down the left flank only for scrum-half Gareth Davies to drop the ball two metres from the try line. They had a man over again from the resultant scrum, the final pass going forward.
Munster were reeling at this stage and every time that the Scarlets opened up the play, they had at least two free runners on an unguarded outside. With 26 minutes played, the red machine again tore Munster to pieces, Gareth Davies almost dancing through a non-existent Munster defence for another great try which Patchell again converted. A look at the scoreboard made frightening reading for the Irish province, 3-22 after almost 30 minutes. It got worse, former Leinster academy player Tadhg Beirne twisting around two tackles after a five metre scrum to score another Scarlets try and Patchell’s conversion pushing the lead to 3-29.
Desperation began to creep into the Munster play, John Ryan had four good carries, Murray made a decent break but there was not enough support to avail of the space. Three minutes before the break, Bleyendaal popped a penalty into the corner to set up his side’s first try chance of the game. They were awarded a five metre scrum and Tyler Bleyendaal saw the gap to charge over for a great try which he also converted. 10-29 at the break.
Munster:Simon Zebo; Andrew Conway, Francis Saili, Rory Scannell, Keith Earls; Tyler Bleyendaal, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell, John Ryan; Billy Holland, Donnacha Ryan; Tommy O’Donnell, Peter O’Mahony, CJ Stander. Replacements, 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Brian Scott for Kilcoyne, 18 Stephen Archer for John Ryan, 19 Jean Deysel for O’Donnell, 20 Jack O’Donoghue for Holland, 21 Duncan Williams for Murray22 Ian Keatley for Zebo, 23 Jaco Taute for Rory Scannell.
Scarlets: Johnny McNicholl; Liam Williams, Jonathan Davies, Scott Williams, Steffan Evans; Rhys Patchell, Gareth Davies; Rob Evans, Ryan Elias, Samson Lee; Lewis Rawlins, Tadhg Beirne; Aaron Shingler, James Davies, John Barclay. Replacements: 16 Emyr Phillips, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 David Bulbring, 20 Will Boyde, 21 Jonathan Evans for Gareth Davies, 22 Hadleigh Parkes for Patchell, 23 DTH Van der Merwe for Steph Evans.
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU)
Assistant Referee 1: David Wilkinson (IRFU)
Assistant Referee 2: Ian Davies (WRU)
TMO: Neil Paterson (SRU)
Citing Commissioner: John Montgomery (SRU)

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