Friday 15 December 2017

Munster seek to turn darkness into light

Province will be wary of Scarlets threat

Hooker Niall Scannell (r) has no doubt that Munster deserve their spot in the PRO12 final this evening.
Hooker Niall Scannell (r) has no doubt that Munster deserve their spot in the PRO12 final this evening.

There is a ring of worrying familiarity around the prospects of Munster and the Scarlets at the Aviva Stadium this evening.

Like Leinster, their sworn provincial rivals will come into this with a relatively long and treasured history of finals in the European Cup and the closest resemblance to a domestic league in the form of the PRO12.

Then again, Leinster had that in their mental locker when they were picked apart by 'newbies' Connacht at Murrayfield last season.

The pain of losing favourite son Anthony Foley will endure long into the future for Munster.

However, the capture of silverware could provide some element of closure to more than just the season.


Like Leinster, they have the edge in British and Irish Lions selection, this time at three-to-two from the excellence of Conor Murray, CJ Stander and their captain Peter O'Mahony over the game-breaking skills of Jonathan Davies and Liam Williams.

The positions of these marquee men are a giveaway as to how both Munster and Scarlets will set up to tear down their opponents.

Munster's Rassie Erasmus will want his men to squeeze it in close.

This is where the importance of the front-five cannot be overstated.

Munster won't make the mistake of going too wide, too soon.

Hooker Niall Scannell wants to shake away the paralysing effect of 'the less said the better'.

"Sometimes it can be an Irish thing, that sometimes we find it hard to say, 'yes, we deserve to be in this final,' he uttered.

"We have been consistent all season and I think we need to keep telling ourselves that.

"I think sometimes we can be too critical of ourselves and maybe overly humble or self-deprecating, however you want to say it."

This is the sort of chat that has to be backed up by relentless work through the 80 minutes. Like Leinster, there is the considerable advantage of home favour, albeit outside their immediate jurisdiction.

Unlike Leinster, they have already tasted the bitter experience of allowing the Scarlets to get into stride in Limerick back in February.

The three lightning strikes from the Welsh club turned a 15-point half-time deficit into a glorious 30-21 show of resilience and belief.

The Scarlets were able to carry that confidence through into Leinster where they became the first club to win an away semi-final in the tenth season of play-offs, reaching back to 2001/2002 and 2002/2003.

Scarlets' coach Wayne Pivac will be eager to expose and exploit space out wide.

"We probably learned a lot from last year," he said.

"We ran pretty hot for the first half of the competition, but couldn't keep that going.

"We've timed the run probably a little bit better this year and not having so many injuries has helped us."

The experience of coming away from Munster, Connacht and Leinster with the victory this season is invaluable.

"It brings a lot of confidence, being able to win on the road and we've done that consistently this year.

"From that side of things, we know we can win on the road.

"We've earned the right to get there and, now, it's about expressing ourselves and not going into our shells."

Munster: S Zebo; A Conway, F Saili, R Scannell, K Earls; T Bleyendaal, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, N Scannell, J Ryan, D Ryan, B Holland, P O'Mahony (capt), T O'Donnell, CJ Stander.

Scarlets: J Mcnicholl; L Williams, J Davies, S Williams, S Evans; R Patchell, G Davies; R Evans, R Elias, S Lee, L Rawlins, T Beirne, A Shingler, J Davies, J Barclay (capt).

Verdict: Munster

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