Munster fightback down Scarlets
MATCH REPORT: Fourteen-man Munster staged a superb fightback to claim a dramatic late victory against Scarlets despite having captain Peter O’Mahony sent off.
The visitors were trailing 27-17 when O’Mahony received his second yellow card with 11 minutes to play but surged back to claim a 30-27 triumph, Ben Healy slotting the winning penalty from the halfway line with the last kick of the game.
Leigh Halfpenny’s record-breaking nine penalties looked to have put Scarlets into a winning position but the visitors made light of being a man down to earn the victory in the most unlikely fashion in a fantastic opening round contest.
Perhaps not helped by the damp conditions, both sides struggled to find their fluency in the opening stages and it took 17 minutes for the deadlock to be broken.
The opening points came from the familiar source of Halfpenny’s boot after O’Mahony was penalised at a ruck to put Scarlets in front.
Jonathan Davies, playing his first PRO14 match since May 2019, then gave a reminder as to what Scarlets and Wales have been missing with a perfectly weighted kick downfield that forced Damian de Allende to carry the ball over his own line.
Scarlets couldn’t force home their advantage from the scrum but Halfpenny was on hand to stretch their lead with another penalty shortly afterwards and Munster received a further blow when O’Mahony was yellow-carded for a no-arm tackle.
Halfpenny’s third penalty made it 9-0 but the 14-man visitors hit back with the first try of the afternoon through Jack O’Donoghue, who collected de Allende’s offload after an excellent break by Andrew Conway.
Munster’s lack of discipline at the breakdown continued to hold them back and another Halfpenny three-pointer made it 12-7 at the break, with JJ Hanrahan sending a penalty of his own inches wide in the final minute of the first half.
The second half continued in the same vein, with Halfpenny slotting his sixth penalty of the afternoon six minutes after the restart.
Hanrahan responded with one of his own but infringements by Munster replacements Fineen Wycherley and Healy were each punished by Halfpenny as Scarlets stretched their lead to 24-10.
Chris Farrell barged over for Munster’s second try to get the visitors back into the game but there was a sting in the tail as O’Mahony received his second yellow card for a no-arm challenge in the aftermath – not dissimilar to that which saw him sin-binned in the first half.
Halfpenny added insult to injury by superbly converting the penalty from the halfway line which followed, making light of the windy conditions to write his name into the Scarlets history books with his ninth penalty – beating the previous record of eight held by Stephen Jones and Byron Hayward.
But Healy responded with a penalty of his own to bring Munster within a converted score of levelling and the vital try arrived when replacement Kevin O’Byrne finished off a rolling maul.
Healy added the extras and then, with the clock in the red, held his nerve to replicate Halfpenny’s kick from halfway and win the game for his side – the first time Munster were in front all afternoon.
Pens: Halfpenny 9
Tries: O’Donoghue, Farrell, O’Byrne
Cons: Hanrahan 3
Pens: Harahan, Healy 2
Scarlets: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Tom Rogers, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Steff Hughes, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Dan Jones, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Sione Kalamafoni, 7 Josh Macleod, 6 Blade Thomson, 5 Sam Lousi, 4 Jake Ball, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Ken Owens (captain), 1 Wyn Jones.
Replacements: 16 Ryan Elias, 17 Phil Price, 18 Javan Sebastian, 19 Lewis Rawlins, 20 James Davies, 21 Kieran Hardy, 22 Rhys Patchell, 23 Tyler Morgan.
Munster: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Darren Sweetnam, 10 JJ Hanrahan, 9 Craig Casey, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Jack O’Donoghue, 6 Peter O’Mahony (captain), 5 Tadhg Beirne, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 John Ryan, 2 Rhys Marshall, 1 James Cronin.
Replacements: 16 Kevin O’Byrne, 17 Jeremy Loughman, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Fineen Wycherley, 20 Gavin Coombes, 21 Neil Cronin, 22 Ben Healy, 23 Rory Scannell.
Referee: Sam Grove-White
Assistant referees: Nigel Owens, Dan Jones
TMO: Ben Whitehouse