RaboDirect Pro12: Three talking points as Scarlets edge Munster
RaboDirect Pro12: Three talking points as Scarlets are 18-13 winners against Munster on Saturday
Happy St David’s Day!
A day of celebration across Wales, but the Scarlets were the only Welsh region celebrating today on after a dismal weekend for Welsh rugby which was earlier compounded by the Cardiff Blues losing to Zebre. It was fitting that the West Wales region were the only side to win with many of the vocal support at the Parc y Scarlets in traditional dress or sporting Wales’ national symbols. A third consecutive league win also keeps the region’s faint hopes of finishing in the top four alive, despite the likelihood that there will again be no Welsh sides in the Pro12 play-offs in May. The scoreline may have been close, but few would call the win anything but massive in a spirited display, Simon Easterby’s side particularly impressive in holding Munster at bay, despite being down to 13 men for 10 minutes, in the closing stages where so many others have failed. The gulf between the operating budgets of the Welsh regions and Irish provinces are well documented, but an understrength Scarlets side showed that when they play for 80 minutes, they’re capable of beating anyone and cannot completely write them out of contention of finishing in the top four.
Munster throw away record chance
The Pro12 league leaders have made a habit out of producing breakaway tries and beating the Welsh regions, but it was a breakaway try by a Scot for the Scarlets which was the difference at Parc y Scarlets as Munster failed to become the first club to win eight out of eight against Welsh opposition in the same season. Four try-scoring opportunities were spurned, two of which were ruled out by the TMO, but the Irish province’s top two ambitions remain intact with a losing bonus point from the 18-13 defeat. They may yet be displaced at the top of the table this week if Leinster defeat Glasgow in Dublin, usually a sure thing. They were somewhat out of sorts in Llanelli, particularly in the second half as very little went their way despite the usual dominance, a rare blip, and they will be justified in being disappointed, but they still have firepower to come back from the Ireland squad for the end of season and it shouldn’t signal the start of a serious decline, perhaps a dent in ego if Leinster do take top spot, but nothing more. Rob Penney’s squad are professional enough to pick themselves back up, assess the damage during the league break come back stronger at home to Treviso in three weeks’ time
Davies books ticket for Twickenham
Much has been made about Wales’ problems at centre with Jonathan Davies and then Scott Williams out with injury and wing George North switching for the France match. Whether his pace and strength is better at 11 or 13 remains a moot point, but Scarlets centre Davies came through 63 minutes for the Scarlets for his first appearance in a month and only his second since picking up a pectoral injury in November and the 25-year-old should now find his way into Warren Gatland’s starting XV to resume his partnership with Jamie Roberts on Sunday 9 March, allowing North to return to the left wing. Despite lasting longer than his last attempted comeback and another Scarlets win, it wasn’t quite the perfect performance from Davies. There were signs that he isn’t fully back up to speed, but he produced a more than solid performance with some nice touches against the league leaders which will give him a platform to build on with a week in the Wales training camp. Asked near the end of the match whether he was ready to play against England, Davies told S4C it was up to Gatland. With the first-class training and recovery facilities at their disposal, Wales will likely ride him hard in training to prepare for the intensity expected from England with the losers almost certainly unable to win the championship. If he comes through that, a start is guaranteed, and if he performs as well as Sam Warburton and Gethin Jenkins did against France after 60 minutes for their regions, then Wales will be even more confident of a win in South West London.