30-27. If you had only seen the score line only, you would have thought this contest was a thrill a minute spectacle but this was far from a classic. Munster Rugby somehow won a game which they looked destined to lose for long periods. Hawkeye Sidekick looks at the key talking points from a Munster Rugby angle.
Spectacular ending but mediocre fare overall
This was such a let down of a fixture. Why oh why when these two sides meet in the Guinness Pro regular season competition does it have to lash down with rain? Scarlets are a side noted for their open expansive play but the conditions dictated otherwise.
30 times Scarlets kicked the ball away evidence of the conditions at play. It made for a messy spectacle. Munster Rugby who have been criticized for their kicking game only kicked the ball away 16 times.
Pack platform issues
The opening round fixture of a new season so to be over critical would be harsh but there were characteristics of the poor pack performance from last season.
The line out malfunctions a combination of poor execution and weather conditions. The breakdown was an absolute mess. Scarlets decided to throw bodies at ruck time early and with an officiating crew not on top of it, they continued to disrupt Munster Rugby ball.
Casey endured a miserable time trying to secure quick ruck ball. The scrum also had issues; the sight of the pack going backwards in the third quarter was a concern but somehow Munster Rugby survived.
Ten jersey is an open spot
This was a day to forget for JJ Hanrahan. A game where nothing went right for the Kerry native. His kicking from hand was inconsistent, ball going out in the full was the least of his worries as his yardage from kicks to touch were quite conservative when you consider other players in his position during the fixture.
Exposed with ball in hand too many times and then the bread and butter kicking off the tee was the final nail in his early withdrawal. The kicking action inconsistent in his misses; a mirror image of the Leinster Rugby kicking problems a couple of weeks ago.
Ben Healy arrived and instantly you could see the kicking game improve from hand and on tee. Professional sport is a cruel spot and for JJ Hanrahan, he has opened the ten jersey battle up. JJ will regroup and come back from yesterday but management need to be ruthless and select the player at half back who is playing better.
With Joey Carbery no way certain of a return to the Munster Rugby ranks anytime soon, the ten jersey is under the microscope. Healy was the hero yesterday but it will require Hanrahan and potentially Scannell and Crowley to drive the ten battle standards further. Intriguing times.
Ben Healy seizes his opportunity
The headlines will be all about Kilruane native Ben Healy and rightly so. He was asked to deliver two pressure kicks late on and he delivered. His kicking off the tee looks so good. His technique is so solid; his kicks were like missiles. They did not miss their targets.
His kicking awareness given the tricky weather conditions there for everyone to see. The low projection on the match winning kick was superb and negated the conditions beautifully. Halfpenny was probably impressed by the kicking execution late on.
Healy will be the first to acknowledge that there were a few nervy aerial balls at the start, defensive position perhaps out of synch early but he warmed to the task wonderfully. His kick from hand behind his posts was a superb clearance finder and you could see the pack respond to it by upping the work rate.
A player who has put himself well in the window to start more games at half back. Munster Rugby management need to nurture the player but if the player’s form is on point, surely he needs more game minutes. The young talent in the squad need their chance to shine. Healy and Casey half back partnership could be a reality in the next few weeks.
O’Mahony gets red as officiating crew implodes
The red card for Peter O’Mahony summed up the day for Munster Rugby in the discipline stakes. Two yellow cards for O’Mahony coming late into rucks. The first one looked harsh but the officiating crew thought different.
The second yellow card issued after the officiating crew tried everything not to give the try for Munster Rugby. Whitehouse was looking for any angle not to give it. Was it a forward pass? Did Farrell lose control of the ball? Was it a double movement?
All questions answered emphatically no but the strangest part was that no mention of the knee to Farrell from Hardy after the try was scored. There would be no such discussion. Oh look, Pete has come into the ruck late. We have to give a try to Munster Rugby but we are going to ping them by sending O’Mahony off and giving Halfpenny a penalty to increase the lead.
This was a horrific officiating crew performance and the reaction of Nigel Owens when he heard the recommendations from Sam Grove-White and Ben Whitehouse on the O’Mahony second card was one of an experienced official who could not wait to get off the pitch quick enough. A dog’s dinner of a performance.
Regardless of the circumstances, O’Mahony will be the first to admit that the red mist descended. O’Mahony will come back better than ever after this but the discipline of Munster Rugby overall was poor; the number of offside and ruck infringements mounted in the second and third quarter.
Video analysis will be scrutinized but this side are usually pretty clean on the officiating decisions. This weekend was completely different. Why was that?
Only Sam Grove-White and officiating crew can answer how inconsistent they were in this fixture. The breakdown area in particular should have seen Scarlets pinged more and perhaps with a yellow card to boot but it never happened.
Munster Rugby tries provide positives
The three tries scored were different looks but it showed how Munster Rugby can create tries from different areas when their cohesion is on point. The opening try was a super score.
Mike Haley’s awareness to offload to Andrew Conway who identified space out wide. Damien de Allende support running for Conway superb and then the running line of Jack O’Donoghue to complete the score. Marvelous score.
The second try was the end product of a series of good pack ball carries creating space out wide. Farrell had plenty to do when it got the ball but it was a superb finish, his momentum got in over.
The third try was the classic maul but the setup work is noteworthy. de Allende inventive running and straightening the line causing Scarlets defensive gaps. Scarlets pinged on the breakdown and cue the penalty. The kick to touch maximizing the yardage. O’Byrne try but plenty got involved with the attacking maul for the score.
Three tries and to be honest if Munster Rugby can improve their ruck time ball presentation, there is so much potential in the ranks to create line breaks. Pack platform needs to improve; discipline needs to improve but an opening fixture win on the road to a main Conference rival is huge.