Munster hit by Scarlets fever

Llanelli Scarlets 32 Munster 17

With the Neath-Swansea Ospreys scoring at the death to draw with Glasgow, the Welsh side are now seven points clear of Munster in the Celtic League.

Gaffney and several players put a positive spin on it all but not everybody will be reassured: "I think there were a lot of good things", maintained Gaffney. "We made moreclean line breaks in this game than we have done for years. We made more opportunities than Llanelli but we didn't take advantage and that is disappointing. We're not used to making those clean line breaks and didn't react as well as we should have."

Not surprisingly, he was very unhappy at the concession of each of the four tries: "The first was simple, one missed tackle, one on one; the second was failure to take a restart; the third was Anthony Foley dropping the ball cold and the fourth was an intercept. Overall, though, I felt we played some good rugby. You wouldn't think it from the scoreline and we were out of the game probably with ten minutes to go. But we still attacked and created opportunities. However, the ball didn't go to hand, was thrown into touch or dropped."

The good news for Ireland and Munster is that Ronan O'Gara came through the exercise unscathed, although he looked quite rusty and mixed the indifferent with the brilliant. A classic early example was a meaningless kick from midfield that dribbled over the Llanelli dead ball line. A few moments later, however, he had even Llanelli supporters singing his praises after the most delightful little chip behind the home defence led to his side's first try by Peter Stringer.

O'Gara claimed: "We tried to be ambitious and spread it wide because you can't win in Europe by just bashing it up the middle.

"We broke their defensive line on six occasions and that is encouraging. But we gifted them four tries, I was responsible for one by throwing an intercept pass but we were chasing the game at that stage and these things happen."

Munster never really controlled the proceedings, due as much to the excellence of Llanelli Andy Powell at number eight, veteran hooker Robin McBryde and Ireland's Simon Easterby. However, they still looked a good bet when they turned a 15-10 half time deficit into a two point advantage within six minutes of the restart.

Christian Cullen and the impressive Jason Holland combined beautifully to split the defence before the latter's inside pass sent Alan Quinlan in for a try at the posts that O'Gara converted. Quinlan suffered a broken nose as he dived for the touchdown but the damage isn't serious enough to prevent his involvement in Ireland's first match in the Six Nations Championship in Rome on Sunday.

The expectation was that Munster would gradually assert themselves. Instead, almost from the restart, Foley dropped an awkward pass on his own 22, the ball rebounded straight into the hands of the Tongan winger Aisea Havili who used his blistering pace to scorch over without a defender in sight.

Gareth Bowen converted to make it 22-17 for Llanelli but the situation should have been far from desperate for the visitors. A lovely pass by O'Gara sent Holland racing through the middle only for his delivery to Paul Devlin drop short. Bowen stretched the Welshlead to 25-17 with a penalty, Munster lost possession onthe line when a score seemed certain and, to cap it all, O'Gara tried an ambitious pass which was intercepted justinside his own half by Chris Wyatt.

He set off for the line some 50 metres away cheered to the echo by the crowd of 7, 500 and chased by Christian Cullen. You'd have fancied the Kiwi to overtake the 17½ stone second-row but Wyatt kept just out of reach before diving over.

The scoreline may have been flattering but it was a pretty devastating blow to Munster's morale, all the more so because they won't play together until a week before the Heineken Cup quarter-final with Biarritz on April 3.

Alan Gaffney faces a huge task to put things right.

LLANELLI SCARLETS: G. Evans; A. Havili, M.J. Watkins, S. Finau, T. Selley; G. Bowen, M. Phillips; P. John, R. McBryde, J. Davies, V. Cooper, C. Wyatt, S. Easterby capt, G. Thomas, A. Powell.

Replacement: J. Mills for Easterby, 66 mins.

MUNSTER: C. Cullen; P. Devlin, S. Payne, J. Holland, A. Horgan; R. O'Gara, P. Stringer; M. Horan, J. Flannery, J. Hayes, D. O'Callaghan, P. O'Connell, A. Quinlan, D. Leany, A. Foley capt.

Replacements: D. Wallace for Quinlan injured 46,; M. Mullins for Payne, 53; M. Lawler for Mullins, 74.

Referee: A. Ireland (Scotland).

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