At one stage it seemed like Munster despite having the majority of possession would leave Parc y Scarlets with nothing. However finishing strongly they salvaged a draw, thereby earning 2 league points which leaves them tied with Ulster in the table (albeit behind on points difference). Looking at the remaining 7 rounds in the league there are several head-to-head encounters starting next weekend with Munster v Glasgow and Ospreys v Leinster so every point will be crucial in the race for the play-offs and the all important top 2 seeding for a home semi-final. I expect the top 6 teams will switch positions in the table several times by mid May.
While the first score went to the Scarlets, an early penalty conceded at a scrum, Munster hit back quickly, attacking through a maul and featuring strong carries by CJ Stander, Dave O’Callaghan, Ian Keatley and Stephen Archer but play was stopped when they were close to the line as #5 Snyman hit his head tackling Archer and needed medical attention before being replaced by George Earle. From the next scrum Munster were awarded a penalty which Keatley converted to make it 3-3. The cameraman zoomed in on Babs celebrating, she had driven down from Birmingham to support the team and there were other Munster supporters there too, their red attire hard to spot amongst the Scarlets supporters. Shingler and Keatley kicked another penalty each in the opening quarter to make it 6-6.
The new hawkeye technology was being used for the first time in the league and it was called upon twice in the second quarter to look at foul play. The first time reviewed a high tackle by Donncha O’Callaghan on the Scarlets fullback Williams. It was deemed to be a penalty but not a yellow card offence so Shingler pushed Scarlets out to 9 points. We could see the TMO sitting in front of a bank of screens showing all the available camera angles so the expectation is that it will speed up the review process. The system works by recording all broadcast angles in real-time and making this content available immediately. The second review was also looking at foul play by a Munster player, this time Duncan Williams.
The referee sent Williams to the sinbin for unnecessary use of the boot (not in a rucking motion) on #11 Tagicakibau who had been offside at a ruck. Munster had been attacking close to the Scarlets line before the referee was alerted to the foul play so they lost their momentum but survived an attempt by Scarlets to capitalise on their numerical advantage when Jones and Stander managed to drive the Scarlets player into touch to bring the half to a close. Despite having 70% of possession Munster were 12-6 behind and down a man, but would the high tackle count by Scarlets tell in the second half?
Ian Keatley moved to scrum half when Munster were in possession for the remainder of the sinbin period. Andrew Conway was threatening down his wing, claiming a great box-kick by Keatley and setting up another Munster attack but it was his combination with Earls which was a highlight of the game. Earls put in a great tackle on Tagicakibau close to the halfway line. Conway scooped up the loose ball and set off with Earls in support. Conway drew the defenders and got the ball out to Earls who showed his speed powering into the Scarlets 22. He then floated a great pass into midfield where Conway gathered it but was tackled. It was Earls who got in first to act as scrum half and keep the attack moving. While they did not actually score from that sequence it was great attacking play and took the game to Scarlets who did not score during the sinbin period.
Shortly after Munster were restored to 15 they had a lineout in the Scarlets half. Quick ball to Hurley who took out 2 defenders and got his hands free to give an excellent offload to Stander who charged on. From the ruck Williams gave a lovely reverse pass to Conway who got even closer to the line. Dave Kilcoyne had a go, CJ carried again, Dave O’Callaghan took it on, then BJ Botha before Jack O’Donoghue touched down for the second week in a row. He had replaced Paddy Butler who had replaced Tommy O’Donnell, both of whom will be monitored under the Head Impact protocols.
It took a few minutes to confirm who had won the pool in Break for the Border – as usual it wasn’t me! There was a good crowd there by then but not so many when the draw was made just before kick-off (to pull a slip of paper with a team name and shirt number on it) so whoever had pulled Munster 7 to be first try-scorer won the jackpot! The conversion put Munster into the lead for the first time in the game but five minutes later Steven Shingler maintained his 100% kicking record with a long-range penalty to regain the lead on 59 minutes and the Scarlets dominated the next ten minutes adding a converted try after a block down by #6 Aaron Shingler which led to a try for Hadleigh Parkes which the other Shingler (Steven, #10) converted and shortly after added a further penalty.
Munster refused to give up and fought their way back aided by Earle being sent to the bin for Scarlets. Felix Jones finished off a good attack but the difficult conversion was missed.
As the clock ticked down a series of pick and go and mauls dragged in the Scarlets defenders to protect their line before Felix Jones changed the point of attack, getting the ball to Keatley whose pass allowed JJ Hanrahan run in unchallenged under the posts. The conversion was straight forward and the draw was salvaged.
Neither team will be happy with the result, Scarlets after letting a 12 point lead slip and Munster for letting Scarlets go 12 points up when they had so much possession and opportunities. There are definitely things to work on before Glasgow visit next Saturday but the positives include Earls, Kilcoyne and Stander all back from injury and another good outing for Jack O’Donoghue, Better execution and fewer penalties conceded will be required next weekend, hopefully in front of a vocal full house.
Scarlets – J Williams; H Robinson, R King, H Parkes, M Tagicakibau; S Shingler, A Davies; P John, K Owens (capt), P Edwards, L Rawlins, J Snyman, A Shingler, J Davies, J Barclay.
Reps: R Elias, R Evans, J Adriaanse, G Earle, R McCusker, G Davies, R Priestland, A Warren.
Munster – F Jones; A Conway, K Earls, D Hurley capt, L O’Dea; I Keatley, D Williams; D Kilcoyne, K O’Byrne, S Archer, D O’Callaghan, B Holland, D O’Callaghan, T O’Donnell, CJ Stander.
Reps: E Guinazu, J Ryan, BJ Botha, J O’Donoghue, P Butler, N Cronin, JJ Hanrahan, I Dineen.
Peadar and I were amused by the captions on Sky during the game which were not the most complimentary – for example Regan King was shown with the caption along the lines of “Yet to score a try this season” while Jonathan Davies brother James was shown with a caption about his brother plays for Wales… which reminded me of those teachers who would say they had taught my older sister at school and would compare us!
It was nice to meet John there to thank him in person for taking the time to comment on last weeks blog with 3 suggestions for euphoric moments. I was saying to him that I was surprised the 2008 final was not in my list last week but only the final whistle celebrations and the actual trophy presentation come to mind. Maybe if Howlett had scored instead of being brought back for a forward pass it would have been included in my list? I’d ask what you think but comments are hard to come by on this blog so I’ll leave it there…
All Daryl’s photos from the game can be viewed here on Flickr
The short highlights
The longer highlights from TG4