The emphatic nature of this defeat hurts as the defence which has been a cornerstone of so many great results this season was breached six times. Sometimes things just don’t go your way, with turnovers conceded, some poor kicking and handling. The physical and emotional efforts of the long season took their toll on Munster who did not get close to the levels of intensity they had shown in the opening game of the season against the same opposition. While it is disappointing that only the British and Irish Cup has been added to the trophy cabinet there is a lot to be proud of regarding the progress made.
Who would have predicted Munster would finish top of the league after 22 games and get out of their European pool never mind reach the top 4 in Europe? Yes there is work to be done but the building blocks have been put in place and we have seen the benefits of a single training base with 19/22 league wins. Younger players have been blooded and new players will come looking to make an impact also. Donnacha Ryan will be a big loss. Hopefully Jean Kleyn will come back strong after injury and Darren O’Shea will push him on also. There is likely to be a signing made to strengthen the options in the second row. The management are already plotting for pre-season to build on the positives and address the negatives from the first year of their three year plan.
The Scarlets are worthy champions. Credit to the pressure they exerted, their handling, excellent offloading, pace in attack, linespeed in defence and ability to force turnovers nullified Munster’s strengths. We had seen them demolish Leinster the previous week and they made Munster look equally inferior in the final. They certainly peaked at the business end of the season after losing their opening three games.
Munster were first on the scoreboard through an early penalty won from a scrum infringement. However, from the restart Saili sliced his clearance kick giving Scarlets a lineout just outside the Munster 22. The maul was defended so Scarlets went wide before Rhys Patchell put in a perfectly weighted cross-field kick which bounced up perfectly for Liam Williams to score in the corner as Keith Earls tried to cut him off. The conversion was missed. A penalty kick extended their lead and then a turnover was quickly passed wide to set up another attack. The time it was Steffan Evans who finished off the move. Rhys Patchell converted to make it 3-15 and they were nearly in again a few minutes later except for a knock on with the line at their mercy.
They were soon back on the attack again. Gareth Davies scored their third try (the TMO confirmed that there was not a forward pass leading up to it) and the road back was looking steep enough before Tadhg Beirne got their fourth just after the half hour mark. He showed great strength and determination to twist and force his way over the line despite the defenders grappling with him. The conversion extended their lead to 3-29. Munster had a decent period of possession, featuring some excellent offloads and turnovers themselves. An offside penalty was kicked to touch. The lineout was secured and the pack drove forward. Simon Zebo picked up an injury but managed to play on. A knock-on gave Munster the put-in to the scrum in the best position they had been in for the previous 38 minutes and they took full advantage.
CJ Stander picked and went from the base of the scrum before offloading to Jaco Taute. Murray’s long pass found Tyler Bleyendaal taking a great line to score beside the post. He converted to make it 10-29 at half time, giving us some hope that the team would come out fighting and turn it around as the A team had done in their final last month.
However there was not much enjoy for the third quarter. Munster needed to score early but it was Scarlets who added three points through a penalty in the 43rd minute. The stats show that Munster had more possession but they were thwarted time and again. In the 69th minute DTH van der Merwe turned the screw with a strong run, fending off three defenders as he raced in to score behind the posts from the 10m line. Liam Williams converted to make it 10-39.
Munster only had pride left to play for with the clock moving into the 70th minute but I was delighted to see Andrew Conway score a try which I believe gives him the record as top try scorer this season (11). It was Conway who started the move, when he prevented their penalty kick from finding touch on his own 22 to secure possession. Munster went on the attack. Rhys Marshall made great ground up the wing before passing to Conway about the 10m line. Andrew showed his pace, side stepping the last defender to score. It gave us something to cheer but we all knew it was too little, too late.
In the 77th minute Keith Earls intercepted a pass in his own half and had a clear run to the line. Ian Keatley took the drop goal conversion and Munster went looking for another score. However a grubber kick was blocked and it was James Davies who was first to react, scooping down to pick up the ball and race for the line. Liam Williams added the conversion and the final whistle blew.
MUNSTER: Simon Zebo (Ian Keatley ’61); Andrew Conway, Francis Saili, Rory Scannell (HIA – Jaco Taute ’5 to ’12, permanent ’28), Keith Earls; Tyler Bleyendaal, Conor Murray (Duncan Williams ’72); Dave Kilcoyne (Brian Scott ’68), Niall Scannell (Rhys Marshall ’55), John Ryan (Stephen Archer ’46); Donnacha Ryan, Billy Holland (Jack O’Donoghue ’53); Peter O’Mahony (captain), Tommy O’Donnell (Jean Deysel ’45), CJ Stander.
SCARLETS: Johnny McNicholl; Liam Williams, Jonathan Davies, Scott Williams, Steff Evans (DTH Van Der Merwe ’58); Rhys Patchell (Hadleigh Parkes ’55), Gareth Davies (Jonathan Evans ’52); Rob Evans (Wyn Jones ’52), Ryan Elias (Emyr Phillips ’72), Samson Lee (Werner Kruger ’28); Lewis Rawlins (David Bulbring ’62), Tadhg Beirne; Aaron Shingler, James Davies, John Barclay (captain) (Will Boyde ’62).
The post match assessment from Peter and Rassie
Match highlights from BBC Wales
The social bit: I had an early start as Olive (who regular comments on this blog) had arrived on the overnight ferry and I had offered her a place to relax before the game. Given the non-stop rain that fell until nearly 5pm that day I was glad I had given her a base until it was time to go to Ballsbridge. As I had volunteered to hand out flags to supporters at the Aviva I had to get there for 3.45 to get my pass. It was fun to greet the fans arriving, many wearing the colours of the teams they support who were not in the final. Some assumed that we were selling the flags so were delighted to be told they were free, especially when they had a few children with them who all wanted one!
My seat was in the corner where the three TV companies, Sky, BBC Wales and TG4 were recording their pitch side previews and half time analysis. The stadium wasn’t full. The bad weather probably kept some ticket holders away if their team was not playing while the high prices and short notice to get organised with just a week since the semi-finals didn’t help. There were some bargains to be found during the week as some of those whose team did not qualify had tickets to sell at face value and below. The atmosphere did not come close the matching that of the Saracens semi-final, it was harder to get the singing going with supporters spread out more and the excellent start made by Scarlets didn’t help. There was a constant stream of people in and out to the bars and toilets near me and people began to leave with ten minutes to go, – neutrals perhaps. I waited for the presentations.
The WTView Chronicles of Munster:
The fifth season of this blog has come to an end. What an incredible, unforgettable season it has been. The emotional scenes on the pitch and in the terraces and stands have left us with some images we will never forget, in particular from the Glasgow and Maori games and we all can picture that moment when Peter O’Mahony slid in, fists pumped in celebration as CJ Stander scored against Racing in Paris. You can flick back through the seasons blogs here What are your personal highlights?
Credit to the management, team and squad of players who could have lost their way dealing with the devastating loss this season of Anthony Foley (RIP) and to the supporters who played their part in this incredible journey. Hopefully my writing has added to your enjoyment of the season. I was a bit disheartened to read that the other Munster blogger ThreeRedKings had more votes for their end of season Player of the Season Poll (congrats John Ryan) than this blog had been viewed since January 1st which is why it is always appreciated to get encouragement from your shares and comments for my niche offering 😊. Thanks to Mr Chips for his kind feedback on MunsterFans.com recently: “There’s an infectious enthusiasm to it and it’s unique in that most other online content tends to focus on technical aspects of the game, whereas yours is purely written from the perspective of an appreciative supporter enjoying the whole matchday experience.”
Enjoy the Under 20s, Ireland and Lions competitions. Hopefully our players involved in those tours will enjoy the different experience and come back to us injury free. My next live rugby outing will be to the Womens Rugby World Cup games in UCD. Hope to see some of you there. In the meantime enjoy the summer. You might consider subscribing to receive future editions by email or to “Like” the blog Facebook page.
Adding in Jerry Flannery’s review of the season – he also speaks of being gutted but also proud of the huge improvement over the previous year.