A second half Munster collapse gifted Scarlets with a rare victory in Thomond Park after the home side appeared to be cruising at half-time when they were deservedly in front by 21-6. The loss has cost Munster their place at the top of the table after Leinster leapfrogged ahead with an easy away win at Newport Dragons.
Guinness PRO12 Round 16 Munster 21 Scarlets 30
By the interval converted tries from Jaco Taute, Darren Sweetnam and Conor Oliver, compared to two Dan Jones penalties, had raised hopes of another Munster performance to match that of the side who ended Ospreys undefeated home run this season. However the Llanelli men had other ideas and inflicted Munster’s first home defeat in nine games since going town to old rivals Leinster back in December 2015, only the second time that the Scarlets have won at fortress Thomond.
For their part, the men in red seemed to have taken their foot off the pedal at the break to allow the in-form Welsh men, who have been beaten just once in the Pro12 since September, to raise their hopes of a play-off place in this year’s Pro12 competition. From the start, Scarlets took the game to Munster and were first on the scoreboard after three minutes when Jaco Taute’s mishandling gifted Jones with an early penalty. However Munster settled into the pace of the game and ten minutes later they had the games first try when full back Jaco Taute got on the end of a good passing move starting with Tyler Bleyendaal who off-loaded to Dave O’Callaghan and he picked out Francis Saili, whose long pass sent Taute on his way across the whitewash for the eighth time this season. Bleyendaal’s conversion made the scoreline 7-3 to the home side.
Shortly after the restart outhalf Daniel Jones closed the gap to 7-6 with his second penalty. Mid-way through the half pressure from the Munster maul on the Scarlets defence led to Darren Sweetnam taking control of an awkward high pass before sliding in for the game’s second try which Bleyendaal duly converted to make it 14-6. Six minutes later the hard-working Conor Oliver showed great delight as he grounded Munster’s third try when he was put through by Dan Goggins shortly after Ronan O’Mahony had been stopped within yards of the line. Bleyendaal, whose superb tactical kicking from outhalf had given Munster a distinctive edge, added the extras to make the half time score 21-6 and Munster headed to the dressingrooms full of confidence.
What happened next was the classic game of two halves. As the rain began to pour down, Llanelli found their stride and exploited Munster weaknesses down their left side to run in three tries and outscore their opponents by 24 points inside an intense ten minute period. An early Dan Jones penalty signalled the beginning of the rout. Scarlet’s captain Hadleigh Parkes led the way with their first try after he got on the end of Aled Davies chipped pass in the 55th minute to narrow the gap to 21-16 following Jones conversion. Davies was involved again in the second try just three minutes later when his pass was collected by Johnny McNicholl and the New Zealander burst through four Munster defenders to silence the loyal Red Army in the stands.
As Munster floundered, Scarlets were rewarded for their pressure with a third try 19 minutes from the end, this time it was Tom Williams who crossed the line in the corner and Jones added the extras again. Munster battled to get back into the game and came close to scoring on at least two occasions.
Dave Kilcoyne looked to have found a way through in the 76th minute but the TMO decided that the ball had not crossed the line. They were also denied by poor handling of the slippery ball. In the end Munster’s faithful followers left Thomond Park shocked that their team had not even taken a bonus point following resolute defending on the part of the Welsh men. The only consolation was that Tyler Bleyendaal was nominated man of the match.
The Munster squad included four academy players, among them try scorer Conor Oliver, who is competing well at this standard. Munster’s return to Thomond Park on Saturday 1st April for their European Champions Cup quarter final against Toulouse. By then their best players will have returned from international duty and hopefully there will be no April Fools!