Munster face impressive Scarlets team in this week’s Pro12 final
By Phil Rice
An error-strewn performance from a strangely off-key Leinster last Friday allowed 14- man Scarlets to reach this year’s Pro12 final at the Aviva this Saturday.
Steff Evans the Scarlets wing who had opened the scoring for the Welshmen with a welltaken try, upended Garry Ringrose with a dangerous spear tackle and was red carded in the 37 minute.
With the score at 21-10 at that stage to Scarlets it seemed only a matter of time before Leinster would move through the gears and cruise through to the final.
But a resolute defence by Scarlets and an incredibly high error count by Leinster led to Scarlets winning the second half 6-5 and a disbelieving home support streaming for the gates before the final whistle.
Although Leinster looked dangerous every time they attacked, somehow they found a way to spurn opportunities to score.
Poor handling followed by needless penalties resulted in an increasingly panicky approach and Scarlets, for whom their Welsh centres Jonathan Davies and Scott Williams were outstanding, soaked up the pressure and took their chances when they came. No one can argue that the deserving team marched onward to the final this week.
Leinster lacked leadership and Jamie Heaslip’s reassuring presence was missed. Johnny Sexton took a heavy blow early on and was largely anonymous for most of the game.
Garry Ringrose threatened in attack but his defence was again found wanting. Joey Carbery is a dangerous counter-attacker from fullback but his positional play and defensive organisation leave much to be desired.
Leo Cullen was clearly mystified after the game, “It can be hard to explain sometimes but the players really are gutted. We just weren’t good enough today. We need to have a good look at ourselves as a group and figure out how we can be better.”
He added, “The players have produced a lot of special moments this season and it’s almost as if we saved our worst home performance of the season to our last game.”
So a sobering end to a season that promised much for Leinster. Scott Fardy will be a welcome recruit for next season but there is still much room for development of the younger members of this talented squad.
Munster returned to their traditional game of dominating the opposition up front and ruthlessly taking their chances when they came.
Conor Murray was back to his best at scrum-half and despite not having an opportunity to vie with Rhys Webb for the Lion’s number nine shirt, when the Welshman dropped out before the game, Murray laid down a marker that Warren Garland will have noted.
This week’s final will be a real test for Munster who have had one of the most eventful seasons in their history. Scarlets are a well drilled and complete side with a water tight defence.
It will pay Munster to take them on up front and play a less expansive game than Leinster attempted. A more pragmatic gameplan that concentrates on the strengths of the Munstermen will pay dividends, especially capitalising on the outstanding back row of Tommy O’Donnell, Peter O’Mahony and CJ Stander.
Scarlets will prove to be a tough nut to crack but Rassie Erasmus will have seen the folly of playing an expansive strategy as Leinster did, and will play to Munster’s traditional strengths, and should just edge to victory.
Connacht narrowly failed to beat Northampton in the play-off for a place in next seasons Champions Cup at the weekend, and will play in the Challenge Cup instead.