The first battle of the Guinness Pro 12 Final between Munster and Scarlets was actually won a fortnight ago, as it was decided then that a coin toss would determine which team should wear their home shirts should there be a colour clash.
Rory Scannell took responsibility for the Irish side and called heads, only to see the flip fall favourably for tails, meaning it will be the Welsh club that’ll sport their iconic red jerseys hoping to repeat their success of 2004 in this competition.
On the pitch, the bookmakers rate this match a world away from a 50/50 call
With Munster, who have won this title on three previous occasions and have been runners up a further three times, short priced favourites at 1/3.
Some would say the Llanelli club should take a spin of a disc right now if offered to determine the outcome at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, given the odds are stacked against them, but that would be unfair given how well they’ve played to reach the final.
Few Scarlets fans will forget their last four win over Leinster, who were heavy favourites to make a seventh final in the last eight years.
In arguably the best performance by a Welsh club in Ireland for a generation, Wayne Pivac’s outfit were 21-10 up after going over the line three times in the opening period with James Davies putting in a man of the match display for the visitors.
However, Scarlets, who finished third the first stage table, some eight points behind Leinster and nine shy of Munster’s total who topped the standings, were reduced to 14 men after Steff Evans was sent off for a tip tackle on Garry Ringrose.
Scarlets withstood a second half barrage from Leo Cullen’s men
With individual errors from his team meaning they failed to capitalise on their numerical advantage, eventually losing 27-15. Munster’s route to the final was far more straightforward, with a 23-3 success over Ospreys.
Scarlets have their inconsistences but when everything clicks – as it did in Dublin last week – are a match for any side. The question is can they raise their game again and prepare as well as they did in their meeting with Leinster when they take on Munster in the Irish capital.
The Welsh club received a huge shot in the arm in midweek when Evans’ red card was rescinded meaning the wing can play in the final. Ken Owens, because of an ankle problem, and Jake Ball, with a shoulder injury, will miss out – but neither played in the semi-final.
Evans scored a superb try in the semi-final and is an integral cog in Scarlets line up
And the Welshmen don’t have to look too far back for an encouraging omen. In February Scarlets won 21-30 at Munster thanks to a stunning second half turnaround.
The Irish side were powerless to prevent their first defeat in 9 league matches as the visitors fought back from 21-6 down at the break before holding firm in the closing stages as the hosts piled on the pressure.
The win was a huge boost to Scarlets’ play-off hopes at the time, as well as only their second win in Ireland since 2013.
So, can they manage a third on Saturday, and, in the process, claim the Pro12 Trophy for the first time since it was re-launched in its current format?
Well, any final brings its own tension and the weight of expectation is certainly on Munster. However, it was fascinating to hear from their Director of Rugby, Rassie Erasmus, who said;
“I guess it’s all about pressure. I know pressure and understand there are big moments in a game.”
He also admitted that his failure to alter his team’s tactics in the defeat to the Welsh club three months ago cost his side the match.
It’s unlikely he’ll make the same mistake twice and with Munster well versed in dealing with pressure, you just sense that this could be a challenge too far for Scarlets.
Munster, who lost only three games in the regular season and made it through to the semi-finals of the European Champions Cup before falling to Saracens, should be at full strength for the match, with Keith Earls and Andrew Conway expected to shake off minor shin and shoulder knocks.
Their ability to deal with Scarlets’ speed will be key and, with Munster’s strong pack proving so sound defensively this season, Scarlets will have fewer opportunities to score than they did in last week’s semi-final.
Meanwhile, Tyler Bleyendaal can continue his sensational campaign at fly half, with the New Zealand playmaker predicted to have a starring role.
The Kiwi has won a number of individual awards this season after battling back from injury and his playmaking skills could be too much for the Welsh raiders.
The Red Army might be playing in blue in this final, but it’s Scarlets who are taken to be off-colour, with Munster set for glory.
For more rugby odds, take a look at Grosvenor Sport’s Rugby Union betting.
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