The Scarlets, led by Scotland skipper John Barclay, overcame the odds and the vast majority of supporters at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium to register their first title triumph since 2004 when they were the “Llanelli Scarlets”. It was a record score, a record margin of victory and all played out in front of a record crowd for a Pro12 final.
This match pitched the Scarlets’ attacking elan against Munster’s iron-clad defence and there was only one winner. The Welsh team played some superlative attacking rugby, constantly outflanking Munster in the wide channels where the Welshmen seemed to have men, time and skill to spare almost every time. It was a lesson in identifying space and attacking it, the sort of rugby that Glasgow aspire to but only rarely executed last season.
The Scarlets scored their first try after just nine minutes and added three more, all of them crackers, inside the opening 30 minutes. They finished this game with a total of six to their credit. Munster managed three in reply but two of them came in the final five minutes when this match was long gone. The gap between these sides was a gulf – Munster were lucky to come second.
There might have been a little luck involved in one or two of the Scarlets’ scores. Scott Williams’ pass to Gareth Davies looked forward, but it could have been even worse had the same man not dropped a simple enough pass to spoil another Scarlets opportunity.
Munster could hardly put one foot in front of the other without tripping, their worst performance of such an emotional season following the sudden death of coach Anthony Foley. They turned ball over in the contact zone, where Barclay and flanker James Davies did their stuff, they lost all the big impacts and when they finally got a sniff of the tryline Francis Saili, having stepped expertly out of Liam Williams’ tackle, knocked on.
It was one of those days, if it could go wrong for the Munstermen it invariably did, and their three Lions barely raised a growl between them.
The Irish province managed a try of their own immediately before the half-time break and Andrew Conway and Keith Earls both scored in the final five minutes but it wasn’t enough. Scarlets scored the first points of the second half, Rhys Patchell’s second penalty, to calm the nerves and the Welsh side were never seriously threatened thereafter.
Patchell was the stand-out player. The stand-off’s neat cross-field kick gave Williams the opening score, his choice of options was good throughout and when Munster occasionally threatened to turn the screw the Scarlets ten hoofed the ball a mile down the park and invited the Irishmen to start again 70 metres further back.
All of the Scarlets’ scores were worthy of a final but two in particular summed up this game. In the middle of the first 40 Munster turned the ball over deep inside the Scarlets’ half of the field. The Welshmen moved it quickly left where Munster’s hooker Niall Scannell was picked off by Lions centre Jon Davies. He swapped passes with winger Steff Evans, twice, before the winger dotted down. Munster couldn’t imagine such a move, let alone execute it.
The second score involved a Dubliner in the form of Scarlets lock Tadhg Beirne who received the ball seven metres from the opposition line with the Munster defence well set. Somehow he was allowed to spin out of two or three woeful attempts at a tackle to score the sort of try that made you check that it was Munster players filling their blue change strip.
After the fireworks of the first half the second was a lot less interesting, although Saili managed another huge knock on. Munster scored two late tries but former Warrior DTH van der Merwe and James Davies did the same for the Scarlets to rub salt in Munster’s wounds, before Barclay and injured regular skipper Ken Owens lifted the trophy between them.