Saturday 16 December 2017

Munster red is not winning colour

Erasmus offers excuses for province

Dave Kilcoyne, Billy Holland and Peter O’Mahony of Munster react after the Guinness PRO12 final defeat. Photo: Sportsfile
Dave Kilcoyne, Billy Holland and Peter O’Mahony of Munster react after the Guinness PRO12 final defeat. Photo: Sportsfile

It was all shock and awe at the Aviva.

The shock came from how the Scarlets whipped Munster into submission even before the half-time whistle offered a temporary refuge from a very public version of hell on earth.

The awe arrived out of the quick and accurate hands of the men from west Wales and their ease of movement around Jacques Nienaber's vaunted system.

The most miserly defence in the PRO12 coughed up a pinch over 1.5 tries-per-game in the regular season.

They were taken to the cleaners for four in half-an-hour in the final and a half-dozen by the close of business.

Munster were simply out-manoeuvred by the same ploys that derailed Leinster's misfiring train the week before across the road in the RDS.

The elegance of Scarlets play was inescapable.

It was all based on a New Zealand dedication from their coach Wayne Pivac to master the basics, seeking out space and applying a precision in execution when they got there.

Three quick passes were all it took to outflank Munster and their support runners streamed through.

In contrast, Munster were busy looking to bludgeon their way into the game.

At least, they brought their trademark aggression to Saracens in the first quarter of the Champions Cup semi-final.

They looked flatter than a pancake and out of ideas long before they ran out of time in the PRO12 final.

This is where Munster's Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus had to step in to absolve his men.

"We have to be realistic," cautioned the South African.

"Maybe it is not what people want to hear, you will know how much you have grown when you get to the last game of the season.

"We've grown to be finalists.

"Scarlets have been doing it for two or three years, building that squad, and we've been doing it for ten or 11 months.

"I am not upset with the players. The players are not upset with us (the coaches).

"The bad thing is not to give something back to the supporters.

"We've been through a hell of a lot this season and they've just been awesome.

"The great thing is that we've outgrown ten other (PRO12) teams and (many) European teams."

The Scarlets coach Pivac masterminded away wins at Leinster, Munster, twice, and Connacht to show the Irish provinces hold no fear in a season that also saw them scalp Toulon and draw with Saracens in the Champions Cup.

This is a club on an upward curve. But it has taken time.

"I was under pressure in the first year," he offered.

"We had a group of players who played a certain way and were very comfortable in their positions.

"I knew what the Scarlets wanted to achieve. My background, coming from New Zealand, was we play a certain style.

"But you can only play that way if you have got certain athletes and a certain skill set.

"If you come and watch us train, there's a lot of boring drills going on.

"If you go and watch the All Blacks train, the drills are very similar and very boring.

"You've got to have the athletes to do it and you've got to have the confidence to do it."

Glasgow Warriors, Connacht and now Scarlets have diluted the majority opinion that finals are won by the team that makes the fewer mistakes,

"People say defence wins championships," said Pivac.

"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 and the easiest way to do it is seven-at-a-time, I think."

The crown of champions has been achieved with what Pivac claimed to be the seventh or eighth biggest budget in the PRO12.

"It doesn't happen overnight," he said.

"It takes a couple of years to find the squad you want when you come in.

"Rassie is finding that out with Munster. He will want to make some changes, no doubt.

"It takes time. This has been three years of hard work."

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