A bad day for Munster, not so much for the PRO12.
A record attendance for a final of over 44,000, despite the surprise absence of Leinster and their enormous fan base on the day, nine tries scored and a success for a side that has prioritised intelligent and aesthetically thrilling attacking rugby.
Even better was the fact that they were Welsh.
For years the European Cup suffered for the reality that, Toulouse aside, the performances of the other Top 14 sides were largely lamentable. The Celtic League laboured under the same localised malaise, with teams from the Principality too often reduced to the role of paupers.
The exception in their case was the Ospreys.
This win for Wayne Pivac’s Scarlets was the first by one of the Welsh regions since 2012 and the first by any Welsh side other than the Ospreys since the Scarlets won their first title back in 2004. That was long before they dropped ‘Llanelli’ from their official title.
So this was overdue for a country that has long engaged in an existential struggle as to how its traditional power bases should engage with the professional game and the result means that Scotland, Ireland and Wales have all claimed a title in the last three seasons.
The similarities with all three are obvious: like Scarlets, Glasgow Warriors and Connacht had to come in from the cold to bask under the glow of May’s big day and they all did it by playing that same scintillating brand of fluid rugby.
“Hopefully it’s a blueprint for other teams because it’s an attractive style of game and it’s enjoyable, our players just love playing that style,” said Pivac. “People say defence wins championships and our defence, let’s not forget this year, has been very good. Today, aside from a couple of loose ones, it was a dominant defensive performance as well. Munster had more ball than us but you’ve got to have that ability to strike when you’ve got the ball. You’ve got to score more points than the opposition. The easiest way to do that is by seven points at a time.”
The PRO12 has been vulnerable to the shifting sands of professional club rugby in the past and likely will be again. The seismic eruption that transformed the Heineken Cup into the Champions Cup was maybe the best example of that. As the English and French clubs flexed their muscles and negotiations rumbled on, the suggestion emanated more than once from some in the Valleys that they should ditch their Celtic cousins in the PRO12 and seek a new ‘domestic’ abode across the Severn. Buy-in though was never total.
The league has made undoubted progress. The return of the end-of-season play-offs was a no-brainer and the embrace of meritocracy in deciding European places - streamlined again this month with the first-seven-past-the-post - has been revelatory.
Issue remain. Rivalries continue to be diluted by the timing of games and the need for sides to preserve their very best for the continental struggle. How long, for example, has it been since Leinster and Munster last met while fully locked and loaded?
The mooted expansion to North America has been met with seemingly equal doses of scorn and excitement and there were whispers about London Welsh and London Scottish being added to the mix not so long ago too. Ambition is to be welcomed but the fact is that the PRO12 scrambles for attention within its existing borders as it is. Not a single Welsh journalist attended Friday’s pre-match press conference and coverage across the board can be hit-and-miss. Nobody can say the Scarlets aren’t doing their bit to change that.
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