MUNSTER will play Champions Cup rugby next season after Rory Scannell’s two tries helped them beat Scarlets 31-15 – bringing an end to the Welsh club’s top-four hopes in the process.
Scarlets needed to win and hope Ospreys were able to beat Ulster to extend their season into the playoffs but neither of those scenarios materialised as Munster signed off their season on a win in front of their home fans.
Francis Saili and Scannell both crossed in the first half but three penalties from Steve Shingler kept the visitors in touch.
.But the hosts strengthened their hold on the game after the break with Ronan O’Mahony, CJ Stander and Scannell crossing.
Chasing a play-off spot, all the pressure in the early stages came from Scarlets and they duly got their reward on nine minutes when Shingler sent over a penalty.
But when another attacking move broke down minutes afterwards, the visitors were stung on the break in devastating fashion.
Saili picked the ball up after the ball had been turned over in front of Munster’s own posts before feeding in a grubber kick for Keith Earls. Earls still had plenty to do but side stepped the onrushing Scarlets defence before returning the ball to Saili to canter over, with Johnny Holland converting for 7-3.
The game was certainly being played at a high speed and Scarlets though they had got a try back almost immediately when Steffan Evans went over the corner but Nigel Owens eventually ruled it out for an earlier forward pass.
Play was instead pulled back for a scrum and when Scarlets then won a penalty, they at least got three points on the board when Shingler sent over his kick.
The next attack went the way of Munster and they again proved clinical when they entered their opponents half, walking away with their second try of the match when Scannell darted over after strong work from the forwards.
Holland again added the conversion to take the scoreboard to 14-6 after 26 minutes.
Scarlets knew they needed tries to keep their play-off hopes alive but they had to make do a series of penalties instead before half-time – both through Shingler – as the visitors entered the break trailing 14-12.
The hosts started the second half strongly and when Scarlets were caught going off their feet, Holland had a chance to extend his side’s lead but he pulled his effort off target.
James Davies then made a break for Scarlets but with no teammates in support he was held up, but the visitors kept up the pressure and Shingler looked to chip forward to towards the posts but he was unable to gather and Earls cleared.
Munster were soon starting to see more of the ball but despite getting themselves a line out close to Scarlets line, they were unable to make it count.
But their third try of the match did eventually arrive just short of the hour mark when a defensive mistake in midfield between Scarlets duo John Barclay and Hadleigh Parkes saw Scannell gobble up the ball before playing in O’Mahony to run over. Holland was off target with the conversion with the scoreline at 19- 12.
Shingler slotted over another penalty to make it 19-15 but Munster were not done and a powerful driving maul on 68 minutes resulted in another try – this time for Stander after consultation with the TMO.
Holland was off target with his conversion but with Scarlets tiring, the hosts were able to add a fifth try late on as Scannell went over after being played in by Stander.
Holland had the final say with his conversion as Munster ran out comfortable winners although Scarlets themselves can also at least look forward to Champions Cup rugby next season.