Scarlets revived their Conference B playoff hopes with a superb defensive stand to thwart Munster Rugby by four points. The result sees Glasgow Warriors move to the top of the Conference A standings as Munster Rugby were left to rue several try scoring opportunities squandered during the eighty minutes. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the action.
Ground Control – We have a problem
This was a fixture that deserved better weather conditions than the swirling wind and rain in Llanelli. The opening exchanges saw Munster Rugby impose their territorial dominance on the contest and an early Bill Johnston penalty gave the visitors an early 0-3 lead, then cue the television feed went down.
As Eir Sports and other providers scrambled to restore coverage, the worse case scenario took place, the only try of the contest was scored while the coverage was down but was reliably informed that good pack play from Scarlets saw the ball spin out to Ioan Nicholas with space to score. Halfpenny slotted the extras and the hosts led 7-3 as the television feed was restored.
Munster Rugby dominance not reflected on scoreboard
The remainder of the opening half was spent by and large in the Scarlets half as Munster Rugby built the phases and the tackle count on their hosts. Several incursions deep into Scarlets territory failed to yield any scores albeit the penalty count for Scarlets was increasing at a rate of knots, something that Mike Adamson did not want any part of.
The key attacking miss from Munster Rugby in that opening period was the line break from full back Mike Haley. An excellent run and with runners to his outside chose to go inside where Scarlets defensive cover was present. A spurned opportunity. The pass out wide would have yielded a try and something that was picked up upon by Shane Williams on the punditry duties.
All the pressure built up by Munster Rugby had a familiar theme. Munster Rugby pack looking to ram their way over from short distance but were met with a wall of Scarlets defensive resistance. With the ball treacherously slippy, any attempt to go expansive ended in knock on’s and surrendering possession.
The half did end with Munster Rugby securing a penalty just on the break. Bill Johnston unerring in his accuracy off the tee amid tricky weather conditions. 7-6 at the break. Munster Rugby doing all the attacking but showing little in terms of the scoreboard. Scarlets sprinted into the dressing rooms with a pep in their step after an excellent defensive display.
Decisive opening ten minutes of second half
Scarlets regrouped at the resumption of the second half and started to pepper Munster Rugby in defense with some astute line running, creating gain line breaks in the process.
A concerted spell of phases saw Scarlets near the Munster Rugby posts which forced the visitors to concede the penalty. The penalty call was to go for the posts, a smart move considering the conditions. Halfpenny slotted home the penalty to make it 10-6.
The rest of the contest was abrasive, an arm wrestle in truth with Munster Rugby looking to hit back with a try. They thought that they scored when Jean Kleyn saw amble space in front of him and crashed over. It looked too good to be true and it was as Rhys Marshall obstructed Hardy in front of Kleyn. The try chalked off by the TMO. It summed up the night perfectly for Munster Rugby. The work rate not in question but the level of precision and composure required to unlock the Scarlets defense was lacking in crucial moments.
Additional Munster Rugby pressure ensued and Arno Botha was held up just short of the line. The red line fever took over Botha who instead of presenting the ball back to colleagues to build more pressure stretched for the line only for the ball to be ripped away.
It effectively spelled the end of the Munster Rugby attacking threat as Rhys Patchell’s introduction saw a more polished kicking game from the Scarlets in comparison to Munster Rugby whose kicking lacked any cohesion or posed any serious questions of the Scarlets back three.
Kevin O’Byrne was introduced and produced a brilliant turnover for Munster Rugby to setup a grand finale but more inaccuracy in possession saw possession spilled. Scarlets ran down the clock and with the likes of Uzair Cassiem absolutely standout with twenty-seven tackles, the hosts won the contest. They deserved the victory based on their determined defensive display throughout and played Mike Adamson superbly at ruck time and the offside line which was not officiated throughout.
Munster Rugby will need to reflect on this performance in relation to the attacking decision making. The blunt pack orientated drive it approach was easily covered by Scarlets throughout and it was only when Haley and Sweetnam had line breaks that their defensive cover was anyway stretched. Edinburgh Rugby will look at how Scarlets’ low tackling style stopped Munster Rugby go forward at source and as a result prevented Mathewson and Johnston half backs from creating any noteworthy breaks.
A couple of weeks to regroup for Munster Rugby. A couple of weeks to remedy the attacking shape error count from this fixture but it has being indicative in recent trips to Wales. A loss will focus the management and squad for the run in; a home game to Zebre Rugby should secure playoff qualification but a top spot in the conference needs to be the target but they have given Glasgow Warriors the opportunity tonight to reclaim.
Scarlets will be hugely buoyed after this win. Their defensive display was on point throughout and when Munster Rugby threatened their try line, they closed ranks and created turnover ball again and again. Scarlets will look to get injured bodies back for the run in and do not discount this side in not making the playoffs. They are the sleeper team in this competition particularly when the pitches start to firm up. A morale boosting victory.