Brilliant Beirne, Erasmus' big question and more Pro12 final talking points

The Scarlets were brilliant in attack, while Munster’s defence fell apart.

MUNSTER WERE OUTCLASSED by the Scarlets in a 46-22 defeat in the Guinness Pro12 final at the Aviva Stadium.

Read our match report here.

Stunning Scarlets

The Welsh side were a joy to watch once again in Dublin, a week after they had dismantled Leinster. Wayne Pivac’s men dished out more pain for an Irish side this evening in the Pro12 final, ripping Munster’s previously-excellent defence apart.

Ken Owens and John Barclay lift the trophy Scarlets lifted the trophy for the first time since 2004. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Scarlets’ wide focus is in attack was devastatingly effective, with their handling skills and decision-making razor sharp in getting the ball to the space. Six tries were just reward for the constant intent and energy Pivac’s men showed.

Attack coach Stephen Jones deserves a large share of the credit but this Scarlets coaching collective is an intelligent one and they have matched their game plan perfectly to the strengths in their playing squad.

The sheer levels of physical energy they possessed at this stage of the season, turning the pace and work rate up with each week building into the final, is a credit to their planning, work ethic and belief that this season was theirs.

To claim their first Pro12 trophy with a record final winning margin of 24 points was fitting for a team who underlined that positive attacking ambition can bring the most positive results.

Munster’s defence

Jacques Nienaber has deservedly been garnering praise this season for his impact on Munster’s defence, but their showing on this big occasion was woeful.

D.T.H Van der Merwe runs in for a try Scarlets were rampant in attack. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

In terms of their tactical approach, Munster looked to be ill-prepared for the Scarlets’ tactics, completely mismatched in the 15-metre channels and consistently making bad decisions to shoot up, inviting the Welsh side to slip team-mates away with their excellent passing.

But beyond those systematic errors, Munster’s pure one-on-one tackling was appalling in the key moments. Missed tackle stats can be misleading, but Munster’s dip underneath 70% in terms of tackle completion was obviously a major factor in their failure.

The Scarlets were the hungrier to win the contact when they were forced to carry in the tight, Tadhg Beirne’s excellent close-range finish a prime example, while the Welsh side used their footwork and acceleration to beat defenders too.

For the main strength of Munster’s game to fall apart in the final was an utter nightmare, and the Scarlets were brilliant in taking advantage.

Beirne’s season

While Aaron Shingler was named man of the match, Scarlets’ Irish lock Tadhg Beirne pushed him hard in terms of individual performance levels.

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John Barclay and Tadgh Beirne celebrate Beirne celebrates at the final whistle. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The entire Scarlets side shone, and Beirne was comfortable in space – showcasing his catch-pass excellence to free Jonathan Davies in the first half – and he also muscled up to the Munster pack in the set-piece and tight exchanges.

While his own head coach, Pivac, has questioned whether Beirne is big enough to play international rugby, the 24-year-old certainly punches above his weight and his sheer determination makes every carry and tackle effective.

Beirne is wonderfully athletic and has played for the Scarlets at blindside flanker this season, meaning he contributes hugely at the breakdown, while his lineout work has been excellent throughout this campaign.

Beirne has been learning fast in what has essentially been his first season of frontline senior rugby, but he has also been one of the best Irish players in the game over the past year.

The fact that he doesn’t play his club rugby in Ireland will see him overlooked for Test honours, but we can be certain that the provinces will be looking to lure Beirne home at the end of his current contract in the summer of 2018.

Erasmus’ big task

Rassie Erasmus has done excellent things with Munster in his first season with the province, of that there can be little doubt, but there is a big question mark hanging over them heading into the summer.

Can they add attacking incision to their foundation?

Rassie Erasmus Erasmus has work to do this summer. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The fact that that foundation – defence and kicking – went so awry against Scarlets was disastrous, but Erasmus must find a way to ensure that Munster are a greater threat with ball in hand next season.

As against Saracens in the Champions Cup semi-final, they were blunt with their possession in the most important and decisive minutes of this final contest.

The incoming Chris Farrell and JJ Hanrahan will look to add something different to the attack, but collectively Munster remain a somewhat stuttering attacking force.

Interestingly, this question has hung over Erasmus before in his coaching years in South Africa, when he also built his plans on defence, aggressive ball-carrying and a strong kicking game.

He, along with backs and attack coach Felix Jones, needs to find a convincing answer before next season as this iteration of Munster cannot trouble top-quality opposition to a great enough extent when their pressure game fails.

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Murray Kinsella

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