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Dublin: 8 °C Wednesday 19 February, 2020

Erasmus' Munster march on to Pro12 final against 'weird team' Scarlets

The southern province will be representing Ireland in an intriguing final at the Aviva.

Murray Kinsella reports from Thomond Park

THERE WAS AN obvious sense of finality to the emotional scenes in Thomond Park yesterday evening as Donnacha Ryan and Francis Saili bid the place farewell, though Munster will have turned the page quickly.

Simon Zebo celebrates after the game with Donnacha Ryan and CJ Stander Munster's players mob Donnacha Ryan. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

That departing pair appreciated the heartfelt reception at a venue that has been humming once again this season, but it is events at the Aviva Stadium next weekend that really matter for the province.

A Guinness Pro12 final against Wayne Pivac’s Scarlets awaits, after the Welsh side stunned Leinster in Friday night’s semi-final, ripping Leo Cullen’s team apart in the first half and serving a warning that they are genuine contenders.

Munster will have the advantage of a big travelling crowd in Dublin but the Scarlets are not going to be underestimated.

Rassie Erasmus’ men secured their place in the final with a convincing 23-3 win over the Ospreys in Limerick yesterday, scoring three tries in a fixture that saw them soak up huge amounts of pressure from the visitors.

Having stumbled against Saracens in the Champions Cup semi-final, Munster now have a chance to end what has been a remarkable season in glory.

“We’re fairly happy with how the season has gone, we’re proud of how the season has gone,” said Erasmus last night. “The players have grown, coaches have grown, the management team has come closer together and worked together.

“There were a lot of things that were a first for us this year, things we did for the first time. Even if we didn’t reach the final, we felt we were improving, so now we’re in the final and we’re in with a shot.

“We would be so stupid not to go full-out and try to win the thing.”

Simon Zebo celebrates scoring a try with Francis Saili Simon Zebo was on the end of a stunning Munster try. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Munster have been on the receiving end of the Scarlets’ rapid-fire attack as recently as February, losing 30-21 to Pivac’s men at Thomond Park in a game they comfortably led at one point.

That success in Limerick, as well as Friday’s humbling of Leinster, will give the Scarlets major confidence before next weekend’s final and Erasmus is wary of the threat they pose.

“They’re a weird team, they come and score two, three quick tries and then sit back for a while and defend really well. We were 21-6 up against them and they scored from two scrums and a lineout, three tries and all of a sudden you’re behind.

That makes you doubt and you’re not sure what the hell just happened in four or five minutes. But if you look overall at that game it was actually a much tighter game.

“Seven, eight weeks later they’re just so much better. They put 40 on the Ospreys as well and there are a lot of things we will have to look at.”

Of course, the Scarlets have many things to worry about when it comes to Munster too, particularly with the Irish province’s pack looking so good against the Ospreys at scrum and maul time.

The Munster backs got in on the act too, creating a stunning Simon Zebo try and also crossing through Francis Saili and Andrew Conway.

Erasmus was happy to report last night that Conway [shoulder] and Keith Earls [shin] are not doubts for the final next weekend, as he hopes to have no fresh injuries to worry about.

Francis Saili scores a try Francis Saili scored a first-half try. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

The South African director of rugby has made a major impact in his first season, along with defence specialist Jacques Nienaber, but he is taking none of the credit after Munster reached the final of the Pro12.

It’s definitely the group. The players decided that they were tired of us not giving back to the community. They wanted to say thanks to the supporters, they wanted to work hard, to play for Axel, to get it right. It’s definitely a massive team effort.

“We had some tough times with injuries to Conor Murray, Jean Kleyn and there have been tough times that are not always so visible from the outside that we had to get through this season, so the medical staff, the S&C, the two very young coaches coaching with us, they’re doing all the coaching more or less.

“To get to a final, the nicest thing is that it’s for the supporters. We would definitely want to win for ourselves, but we would like to win for them. The ball can bounce left or right, a referee decision can go against you but we’re proud to be here. We’ve got a chance.”

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‘It’s sad to lose guys like that’ – Ryan and Saili bid farewell to Thomond Park

Scintillating Zebo try helps Munster into Pro12 final against Scarlets

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Murray Kinsella

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