Munster and Scarlets go toe-to-toe on Saturday evening at the Aviva Stadium with the Guinness PRO12 title at stake.
Munster are back in the Guinness PRO12 final for the first time since 2015 when they were defeated by Glasgow Warriors in Belfast, while Scarlets are aiming to win their first Championship title since 2004.
Last Friday, Scarlets created history in the Guinness PRO12 when their 27-15 win over Leinster saw them become the first team ever to win a semi-final game away from home.
Munster overcame Ospreys in their semi-final at Thomond Park on Saturday, running out 23-3 winners and scoring three tries to keep up their outstanding form.
What’s at stake?
Winning the Guinness PRO12 trophy is the ultimate motivation and Scarlets are going in search of their second title, whereas Munster are playing for a fourth.
If Rassie Erasmus’ side were to achieve that feat, it would put them on a par with Leinster and Ospreys, who share the record for most titles.
— PRO12RUGBY (@PRO12rugby) May 26, 2017
The Munstermen are in superb form and have won their last seven Guinness PRO12 matches.
They will hope to win one more in the effort to succeed Connacht Rugby as champions of the competition.
Scarlets are also in scintillating form, having won their last six PRO12 fixtures – their only defeat in the competition in 2017 was on a visit to Leinster in round 17.
Munster will take the home changing room and to avoid a colour clash Scarlets will play in red whilst Munster will be in their alternate navy kit.
Munster team news:
Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus has named an unchanged 23 from the squad that defeated Ospreys last Saturday.
That means Simon Zebo goes at full-back, with Andrew Conway and Keith Earls on the wings while Francis Saili and Rory Scannell form the centre partnership.
📺 🎥 Get in the mood for tomorrow!
— Munster Rugby (@Munsterrugby) May 26, 2017
Conor Murray will make his 100th Munster appearance next to Tyler Bleyendall, who will pull the strings at fly-half.
CJ Stander auditions for the Lions at No 8, with Tommy O’Donnell and Peter O’Mahony on the flanks.
Donnacha Ryan wins his final Munster cap alongside Billy Holland and the front row is formed by Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell and John Ryan.
Scarlets team news:
Head coach Wayne Pivac is also able to name an unchanged XV from his side’s semi-final victory over Leinster after Steff Evans’ red card was rescinded during the week.
Gareth Davies will make his 150th Scarlets appearance in style – he’s partnered in the half-backs by fly-half Rhys Patchell.
Scott Williams and Jonathan Davies are the centres and Evans and Liam Williams occupy the wings, with Johnny McNicholl at 15.
In-form Rob Evans and Samson Lee pack down either side of Ryan Elias, with Lewis Rawlins and Tadhg Beirne in the engine room.
Scotland’s John Barclay captains at No 8, Aaron Shingler is on the blindside once again, and James Davies goes at openside.
Munster Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus pointed to flexibility as a key factor in his team’s bid to win a final.
“You lose players to internationals, injuries; it’s a long season of 22 matches and you play different styles – you play a Welsh team and then an Italian team,” said Erasmus.
“So when you get to a final, the trick is to understand totally how the opposition’s playing. Comparing what we faced against Ospreys to this week, it is totally different.
“Scarlets are a complete team because they’ve played Saracens twice. A lot of teams learn a lot after playing Saracens.
“Their game plan changed a little bit after they played Saracens twice. Hopefully we can also use that.”
Scarlets head coach Wayne Pivac said: “We know they’re a very good side. You don’t finish top after the round robin stage for nothing.
— Scarlets Rugby (@scarlets_rugby) May 26, 2017
“They’ve got the best defensive record in the championship and they’re a side that we have a lot of respect for.
“We took some confidence out of that win [at Thomond Park] but it’s going to be a different occasion altogether. We have to make sure we go out there and play our game and enjoy the occasion.
“The boys know that if they get it right on the day, they can beat anyone, so we just have to get it right on the day.”
Five of the two clubs’ six players selected for this summer’s British & Irish Lions tour to New Zealand will start at the Aviva Stadium.
The only exception is Scarlets hooker Ken Owens, who sits out again as he tries to overcome an ankle injury.
Scarlets’ two other Lions both start, with Jonathan Davies lining up at outside centre and danger man Liam Williams on the wing.
Conor Murray starts at scrum-half for Munster, and they have two Lions in the back row in the shape of captain Peter O’Mahony and No 8 CJ Stander.
Key stat: The Munstermen have won their last seven Guinness PRO12 matches, whilst their only defeat in the Championship since round 6 was 21-30 at home to Scarlets in round 16.
Did you know? Munster have lost on their last three appearances at Aviva Stadium in all tournaments and have won just once there since the old Lansdowne Road was reconfigured: 34-23 against Leinster in round 5 of the PRO12 in season 2014/15.
Munster top points-scorer: Tyler Bleyendaal 134. Top try-scorer: Ronan O’Mahony 9
Scarlets top points-scorer: Rhys Patchell 133. Top try-scorer: Steff Evans 12
Guinness PRO12 head to head record:
Played 28, Munster won 16, Scarlets won 10 with 2 games drawn.
At Aviva Stadium, 18:15pm Live on Sky Sports/TG4/BBC Wales
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: David Wilkinson (Ireland), Ian Davies (Wales)
TMO: Neil Paterson (Scotland)
Scarlets knew they were going to have to do it the hard way but do it they have with a 46-22 win over Munster to claim the Guinness PRO12 title at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin in front of a record 44,558 supporters.
When Wayne Pivac’s team lost their first three games of the season without even picking up a bonus point a day like this would have seemed out of the question.
But under Pivac they have become a well-oiled machine, as dangerous an attacking threat as ever, with the added steel up front and most importantly, genuine belief.
A week after becoming the first away team to win a Guinness PRO12 semi-final, beating Leinster at the RDS, they returned to Dublin and beat Munster in Ireland for the second time this season.
A blistering attacking display from had Munster on the ropes half an hour in, trailing 29-3 having conceded four tries as Scarlets proved that you don’t have to defend to win knock-out rugby.
Liam Williams, Steff Evans, Gareth Davies and the outstanding Tadhg Beirne all crossed in a sensational show of attacking verve, with the Limerick side incapable of slowing the Scarlets waves.
Munster finally got a try of their own on the stroke of half-time, Tyler Bleyendaal crossing and converting his own score, but Rassie Erasmus’ men trailed 29-10 at the break.
Any chance of an unlikely comeback was put to bed in the first 15 minutes of the second half, Rhys Patchell adding another penalty and pushing the lead to four scores as Munster couldn’t find a way through.
Instead it was DTH van der Merwe, in his final game for the region, who ran in try number five, with a brilliant individual score, shaking off a couple of tackles on his way over.
Munster struck twice late on through Andrew Conway and Keith Earls, but Scarlets had the final say with James Davies’ try with the final play of the game.
While Scarlets were the more threatening early on it was Munster who took the lead thanks to a dominant scrum, Bleyendaal slotted the seventh-minute penalty.
In their first Guinness PRO12, Scarlets could have been overawed by the occasion but they bounced straight back with their first try of the game.
It was a sign of what was to come as Patchell spotted space in behind and played a beautiful kick through with Williams beating Earls for the try.
Patchell’s conversion was just off-target, but he found his radar on 17 minutes when Niall Scannell was penalised for going off his feet at the breakdown.
The 8-3 lead didn’t seem a fair reflection of how dangerous the Scarlets looked, but they quickly extended their lead.
Steff Evans finished off one of the tries of the season on 20 minutes as Scarlets were able to regularly find space out wide. Off a turnover it was the quick hands of Irish second row Beirne that made the difference. He put Jonathan Davies away and he and Evans exchanged passes back and forth to eventually send the latter over.
Patchell converted for a 15-3 lead, and two minutes later they should have been over again, Gareth Davies knocking on after another break down the left.
He didn’t have to wait long for his try though, getting on the shoulder of Scott Williams as he broke through and going under the posts.
Munster were shell-shocked, and it got worse just after the half-hour when Beirne collected the ball five metres out and, from a standing start, twisted out of two tackles and reached over.
Leading 29-3, Scarlets were in dreamland, but Munster finally managed to get their hands on the ball for an extended period, and were rewarded with a fine try from Bleyendaal after a pick from the base by CJ Stander and a quick recycle. His conversion cut the deficit to 19 at the break.
Munster needed to build on that score at the start of the second half but instead it was Scarlets who struck first in the second half, Patchell slotting a penalty from 35 metres out on the left.
Trailing by 22 points Munster had it all to do, but they have shown incredible spirit this season and they weren’t about to go down without a fight. Conway’s ability in the air was giving Munster some joy, but a penalty against Peter O’Mahony for a dangerous clearout saw one good opportunity go begging with the hour-mark approaching.
That seemed to take the wind out of the Munster sails, and it was up to Canada winger Van der Merwe to twist the knife. Taking over kicking duties, Williams extended the advantage to 39-10 before Munster’s two late tries.
And in the end it was James Davies, scooping on a loose ball in midfield, who had the final say with a sixth Scarlets try.
26 May 2017
23 May 2017