Munster need a strong finish to secure home advantage for the Celtic League playoffs. Could they secure a bonus point victory in Wales?
Munster - Jones, O’Dea, Murphy, Mafi, Zebo, Keatley, Murray; Kilcoyne, Sherry, Botha, O’Driscoll, O’Connell, Ryan, O’Donnell, O’Mahony.
Scarlets - Williams, North, Warren, Jones, Lamont, Priestland, Davies; Jones, Rees, Manu, Timani, Day, Schingler, Turnbull, Morgan.
Munster begin to find their rhythm, taking the ball through a handful of phases in midfield, but Alain Rolland – the most pedantic of referees – is there to penalise Paul O’Connell for holding on.
In the immediate wake of a wayward tactical kick from Rhys Priestland – so little has changed since the Six Nations… – Munster are awarded a scrum in the centre of the park.
Munster domination, and a colossal wheel through all of 90 degrees ensues.
Ian Keatley struts over to take the place-kick and, after nonchalantly ticking all his preparative boxes, sends an effort sailing wide of the posts.
Scarlets 0-0 Munster
Try for Scarlets! The counterattacking threat of the Welsh side is writ large over this one.
Content to pick and go from their foothold within sight of the Llanelli line, Munster lose the ball forward and, with it, set in process a series of line-breaks that culminates in the bulky figure of Sean Lamont touching down in the left corner.
It’s Warren who makes the crucial breakthrough, finding yards on the right wing before casting a long right arm in the direction of human juggernaut George North. The winger charges for the line, but is wrestled to ground by Felix Jones. A sigh of relief ripples through the crowd as the wing topples over, but his offload finds another red shirt on the inside.
With the Munster defence in disarray, Lamont’s conversion is elementary.
Priestland doesn’t exude confidence, but his conversion secures a maximum return.
Scarlets 7-0 Munster
Try for Munster!
Some fleet-footed japery from Simon Zebo on the left wing meets an untimely end, the youngster hustled into touch by a pair of red-shirted defenders. Disaster averted, from a Welsh perspective, until Mick O’Driscoll rises to claim the resulting lineout.
His pass from altitude finds Murray, who in turn spins a pass to Ryan. Hugging the ball close his chest, the No6 dips his head and lumbers, in suuuuper sloooow motion, across the tryline from a little over five metres out. What in the blazes?
Keatley draws the side’s level.
Scarlets 7-7 Munster
Try for Munster!
Encamped within the Scarlets 22, the men in white look content to pick and go – but its all an illusion! Suddenly elevating the tempo, Murray intervenes to spread possession wide. Seconds later the ball’s in the arms of Zebo, who eludes the grasp of his nearest challenger to earn a yard of space and bundle his way through two defenders. Try?
Replays suggest he lost possession in the act of grounding the ball, but the TMO is in generous mood.
Keatley makes no mistake.
Scarlets 7-14 Munster
Sterling work from Peter O’Mahony and Tommy O’Donnell earns the Irish province a shot at goal.
Keatley, from a spot nearly directly in front of goal, punts Munster into a 10-point lead.
Scarlets 7-17 Munster
*sigh* Alain Rolland has chosen this – the 33rd minute – to embark on his trademark rambling, vaguely patronising lecture of the front rows…
Peristent infringement from Munster at the breakdown grants Priestland an attempt on goal.
From 30 metres out, he slings another high, right-to-left effort inside the left post.
Scarlets 10-17 Munster
The conflict at the breakdown yields another penalty for the home side (Paul O’Connell isn’t happy with Rolland’s interpretation of events, turning away with an exaggerated huff of exasperation), but Priestland can’t convert.
His attempt, less a soft draw than a raking hook across the face of goal, careens wide of the left post.
The game pauses as O’Donnell (“Tommy O’Donnell bocht,” as TG4 would have it) receives medical attention.
Over the course of the five minutes it takes for the No7 – immobile at the heart of an impromptu medical conference – to be manoeuvred onto a stretcher and placed in a foam neck brace, both sides are content to run drills and toss the ball about disinterestedly.
“Slow it down, lads; slow it down.” Alain Rolland shares his refereeing philosophy.
As for Simon Zebo – he adheres to the sartorial principles of Leinster studmuffin Rob Kearney:
Half-time: Scarlets 10-17 Munster
Munster enter the interval with a seven-point lead, courtesy of tries from Donncha Ryan and Simon Zebo. While the Irish province has looked the more threatening of the two sides, Llanelli have demonstrated, albeit sporadically, their ability to counterattack at pace.
I’d bring you in-studio quotage, but I can’t make head nor tail of what they’re saying on TG4.
So… here’s something completely different:
We’re back underway… Scarlets claim possession, take the ball through a speculative phase, then release Priestland, who drives a clearance downfield.
His kick is the first of many, as possession sways backs and forth between the two sides…
Eventually, the emergent status quo gives way to a Munster scrum in midfield. It’s the Welsh side who use set piece most effectively, however, claiming possession and embarking on a series of runs across the Irish defence. Donncha Ryan intervenes to force a turnover…
Josh Turnbull dillies, then dallies en route to claiming a loose ball inside the Scarlets 22. As he begins the slow business of extending an arm groundwards, the boot of Johne Murphy materialises to poke the ball goalwards.
Ian Keatley stoops to claim, but under pressure from not one, but two red shirts, the fly-half cedes control of the ball as he skids feet-first across the tryline. Stunned, he trots away shaking his head.
Another poorly-weighted kick from Priestland drifts beyond the Munster tryline…
Du Preez joins the fray in place of Kilcoyne.
Sione Timani “forgets” to use his arms in halting a rampaging Peter O’Mahony and earns the scorn of Alain Rolland.
The penalty, Munster’s first of the half, sails clear of the posts.
Scarlets 10-20 Munster
A more attritional affair than the 40 minutes that preceded it, the second half isn’t exciting, in liveblog terms at least, but is more satisfying spectacle for the viewer.
Passes are going to hand, both sides are succeeding in taking the ball through multiple phases. It’s become a physical stalemate, one characterised by pitched battles across the park rather than the dull hum of inactivity.
Oh! In the context of my previous post, how embarrassing would that have been!? [rhetorical question]
Allowed to build momentum – you NEVER let him build momentum – George North arcs a run through the Munster defence. A last-ditch tackle brings him to ground, and for once, the youngster’s uncanny ability to find an offload deserts him.
NOOOOO! Try for Scarlets!
Emboldened by North’s heroics, Llanelli roll forward in search of a try. It’s a question of momentum and sheer single-minded physicality, this: surfing the crest of an unstoppable, blood-red wave, Shingler steps clear to touch down at the left post.
Priestland’s conversion reduces the deficit to three.
Scarlets 17-20 Munster
Ivan Dineen takes the place of Felix Jones… there are other substitutions, but how about you relax, yeah?
Alain Rolland: orator and pedant.
With his knees planted firmly on the back of the player in possession, but just high enough to give the impression he’s supporting his own body weight, Murphy reaches across to force a turnover.
Cheering and backslappery abounds within the Munster ranks, but the penalty is squandered.
Donnacha O’Callaghan, recently arrived in place of Mick O’Driscoll, immediately makes his presence felt by wrestling Adam Warren to the ground and conceding a penalty for failing to release the tackle (…so to speak).
Priestland, from a metre or two inside the right touchline, clatters another swooping draw over the bar.
Scarlets 20-20 Munster
Llanelli look at ease in possession, moving the ball at speed across the back line, occasionally employing North and Morgan as battering rams to restore forward momentum.
It will take something, someone special to shift the momentum. Enter Donncha Ryan to force a penalty turnover.
Again Scarlets lay siege to the Munster line, finding ground through Morgan, Jones, Phillips…
Munster’s defence is frantic, oriented solely towards the final whistle, now potentially only 20 seconds away…
Finally, the ball bounds free of Welsh possession; Keatley springs to claim, paving the way for a clearance to the right touchline.
The clock has ticked into the red, but we’ll have time for one more scrum…
Scarlets claim possession with ease and again Munster are forced into a series of last-ditch tackles, rolling Morgan, the Jones diagnonally across the pitch. Finally, as play is drawn back towards the populace midfield, the province commit numbers to the breakdown and draw the match to a groaning, grinding halt.
Rolland steps over a corpse or two en route to the mass of bodies smothering the ball, raises an arm and delivers a shrill peep of the whistle.
Full-time: Scarlet 20-20 Munster