MUNSTER have a real battle on their hands to make the play-off stages of the RaboDirect PRO12 after the province slumped to an 18-10 defeat to the Scarlets at Parc y Scarlets on Saturday evening.
This was a hugely disappointing display for Munster who lie sixth in the PRO12 table, five points off a play-off position and 10 points away from securing precious home advantage at the last four stage of the competition.
Saturday night’s defeat in Wales also cranks up the pressure on Munster ahead of their trip to Italy next weekend to face Treviso at the Stadio di Monigo on Sunday.
In only his sixth appearance for the Scarlets, the 20-year-old Owen Williams kicked all of their points.
The young out-half delivered a mature performance to outshine his opposite number Ronan O’Gara, who missed three of his four penalty attempts - including two in the opening six minutes. It was not the kind of performance O’Gara, starting his first game for a month, would have wanted ahead of his likely recall to the Irish number 10 shirt for next Sunday’s RBS Six Nations clash with Scotland at Murrayfield.
Unforced errors and poor decision making blighted Munster’s play, although they did create a late opening for winger Denis Hurley to touch down. But there was no time left to push for a losing bonus point.
The Scarlets deservedly led 9-3 at half-time and put the game beyond a struggling Munster side in the second period.
Owen Williams kicked his fourth penalty, while O’Gara missed his third from four attempts.
It got even worse for the Irish as captain Mike Sherry was sin-binned on 56 minutes, allowing Owen Williams to kick a fifth penalty as Scarlets led 15-3.
And down to 14 men, Munster went further behind to an Owen Williams drop goal. Munster at least had the final word with Hurley’s late try.
SCORERS – Scarlets: Owen Williams five pens, one drop goal. Munster: Denis Hurley try, Ronan O’Gara one pen, one con.
SCARLETS - Gareth Owen; Liam Williams, Gareth Maule, Adam Warren, Andy Fenby; Owen Williams, Aled Davies; Phil John, Emyr Phillips, Jacobie Adriaanse, George Earle, Johan Synman, Rob McCusker (capt), Josh Turnbull, Kieran Murphy. Replacements: Nick Reynolds for Owen (50 mins), Samson Lee for Adriaannse (60 mins), Gareth Davies for Aled Davies, Rhodri Jones for John, Jake Ball for Earle, Johnathan Edwards for Murphy (all 68 mins), Kirby Myhill for Phillips (74 mins).
MUNSTER - Ian Keatley; Denis Hurley, Ivan Dineen, JJ Hanrahan, Johne Murphy; Ronan O’Gara, Duncan Williams; Wian du Preez, Mike Sherry (capt), BJ Botha, Donncha O’Callaghan, Ian Nagle, CJ Stander, Tommy O’Donnell, Paddy Butler. Replacements: Casey Laulala for Dineen (50 mins), Sean Dougall for Stander (59 mins), Cathal Sheridan for Williams (68 mins), Stephen Archer for Botha, Billy Holland for O’Callaghan (both 69 mins), John Ryan for du Preez (75 mins).
REFEREE – Dudley Phillips (IRFU)