For Jonathan Evans, success at the RDS last week has come at a price.
Had the semi-final against Leinster gone according to the script most of us expected the Scarlets scrum-half would be in Budapest now for his stag party. Instead, he waved his mates off to the airport yesterday morning before returning to Dublin.
Joining him and the rest of Wayne Pivac’s side for today’s final will be an estimated 1,500 supporters who have been able to overcome the logistical difficulties of organising the trip at such short, and unexpected, notice. Close to 43,000 tickets have been sold and, though the actual attendance is anyone’s guess given the thousands of stubs held by Leinster fans that are likely to have flooded the market, there isn’t any doubt as to who will enjoy home advantage. The bookies have Munster down as overwhelming favourites, seemingly unconvinced by the Welsh club’s heroics in Ballsbridge eight days ago.
“Ireland hasn’t been a happy hunting ground previous to this season for us,” said Scarlets coach Wayne Pivac. “We’d only had the win against Ulster a year ago but (with) the win in Galway (in late April) and last week I think we’ve got over that now and we come into the game with every chance of being successful if we play well.”
The club’s experiences in Ireland - two wins this term, one the year before and four losses in 2014-15 - stand as an accurate barometer of the progress made under their Kiwi coach. They should be underestimated at their peril. One of their two successes in this country this campaign was a stunning 30-21 win in Thomond Park against Munster. Trailing 21-6 at the break, the Welsh took seven minutes to claim a hat-trick of tries and turn the game.
Add the three tries claimed after cutting Leinster’s defence to shreds last week and Munster can’t say they haven’t been warned ahead of a game that brings together Pivac’s entertainers and the best defensive side in the league.
“Teams get this far into the season and they’re not going to change that much,” Pivac said of Munster. “What’s been working all season is probably what they are going to bring. Yeah, they do kick the ball quite a bit. They kick it well and into space.
“They also have the ability to get the ball back. They have a good kick-chase game, a very strong forward pack and it means we have to be on our game and our discipline has got to be right. We’ve got to be able to match that physicality.”
Shutting down that attacking intent won’t be Munster’s only ambition. Or shouldn’t. The choice of Francis Saili ahead of Jaco Taute last week and again today is surely a sign of that and Pivac, who knows Saili from their time in New Zealand, can see the logic in the selection.
“Francis had very good feet and he was getting some go-forward, beating players and creating opportunities (last week). They created some very good opportunities which he played a major role in. He just brings out a bit of X-factor and flair, which is a bonus.”
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