After a summer of pessimism where Munster’s name has rarely been mentioned among the Guinness PRO12 favourites this was some way to start the season.
Rassie Erasmus’men had travelled across the Irish Sea shorn of several key players through injury and internationals being who are being eased back into action
The Scarlets, on the other hand, brought out their big guns for their home opener. In the backline alone there were full internationals in the form of Liam Williams, DTH van der Merwe, Scott Williams, Rhys Patchell and Gareth Davies. A certain Jonathan Davies was on the bench.
Up front were the likes of Ken Owns, Jack Ball and John Barclay, and few would have fancied the visitors to pull off a first win in west Wales for five years.
But a superb defensive effort during the opening quarter, where the hosts dominated territory and possession, sapped Scarlet spirits and chances were clinically taken by the visitors.
James Cronin crashed over from Munster’s first real attack and wing Ronan O’Mahony took full advantage of some lax Scarlets guarding at a ruck to add the second try.
That opened up an 11-point lead but a piece of opportunism from scrum-half Davies got his side back in the game, taking a quick tap on his own 10-metre to race down the right flank and collect his own grubber to score.
But Munster took the blow on the chin and ultimately ran out comfortable winners as Tyler Bleyendaal kicked second-half penalties to seal victory. It is a result that is unlikely to have gone unnoticed by their Guinness PRO12 rivals, but lock Dave Foley was keen to keep a lid on celebrations.
“It is no mean feat to win down here, if you consider that we have not won here for five years. They have a good backline but their pack has always been gutsy, they have a lot of internationals,” said Foley, whose excellent running line and carry paved the way for Cronin’s opener.
“But I don’t know if we have made a statement or anything like that. If you look back to last season we were lucky to get into Europe so we have a lot to prove to ourselves. We want to push on from where we were last season. The coaching staff who have come in have bolstered things, new voices are good and I think we are starting to get in a good place.
“The new guys are very professional, they have impressive CVs, we have a really strong team of coaches here and it puts us in good stead for the season.”
Erasmus and his players had praised the work done by new defence coach Jacques Nienaber since his arrival during the summer, and the comfortable manner in which the Limerick men soaked up wave after wave of Scarlets pressure would doubtlessly have pleased the South African. While the director of rugby was keen not to solely praise his defence guru, he acknowledged the attitude and desire without the ball had set the standard he does not expect his men to dip below as he seeks to revive fortunes after last season’s disappointments.
“It was the first time being here in the league and the competition so there were a lot of things I had to take on board and I think now we can see this is going to be a very tough competition,” said the former South Africa flanker.
“We will take positives from here but when you come to a place like this you have to show guts. Even if we lose games, the thing is for the guys to try like that when we are under the cosh.
Defence is an outflow of your game philosophy and what guys like Anthony Foley and all our staff bring to the party on that side of things. The guys have taken it on board. I think it bodes well. If you can show your aggression in the system that is the golden way.
“There were moments here when we didn’t but hopefully that has set the standard for the season. We will be pushing the guys to make sure we get that out of them.”
Scorers for Scarlets:
Try: G Davies 33; Conversion: R Patchell 33; Penalties: Rhys Patchell 26, 48.
Scorers for Munster:
Tries: J Cronin 19, R O’Mahony 30. Conversions: T Bleyendaal 19, 31; Penalties: T Bleyendaal 38, 54, I Keatley 66.
L Williams (J Davies 49); DTH van der Merwe (D Jones 74), S Williams (L Williams 58), H Parkes, S Evans; R Patchell, G Davies (J Evans 74); D Evans (W Evans 66), K Owens (R Elias 77), W Kruger (P Edwards 66), J Ball (D Bulbring 66), L Rawlins, A Shingler (T Beirne 63), J Barclay, J MacLeod.
S Zebo (I Keatley 18); D Sweetnam, D Goggin, R Scannell, R O’Mahony; T Bleyendaal (C Bohane 66), D Williams (T O’Leary 63); J Cronin (D Kilcoyne 56), N Scannell (K O’Byrne 77), J Ryan (B Scott 77), D Foley, (D Ryan 50) B Holland ©, D O’Callaghan (J Kleyn 65), T O’Donnell, J O’Donoghue.
L Linton (Scotland)
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