Llanelli Scarlets 23 Munster 24: Moriarty makes referee villain of the piece
Sunday 04 May 2008
What on earth would the late, great Ray Gravell have made of it all? Almost certainly not a lot, at least of the politics, although the rugby was a different story.
With a speed and savagery unmatched even by the extreme exploits of the Rugby Football Union, the Llanelli Scarlets dispensed with the services of their head coach, Phil Davies, in midweek.
Davies, who had been in the job for only two seasons after a long stint at Leeds, learnt of his demise in a newspaper.
Not so long ago Davies was in the running for the Wales job. His return to Stradey Park last year, in succession to Gareth Jenkins, was seen as the warmest of homecomings for a former Scarlets stalwart. Yesterday, while Davies took his family to the Lake District, Stuart Gallacher, the chief executive, wrote in the programme: "Phil Davies and myself have been on a working trip to Australia and New Zealand and I'm glad to say it was of great benefit. The board, management and coaches are working for the future and the visit Down Under highlights our commitment to building a squad that will match our aspirations at a superb new stadium."
Davies' departure was so sudden that Gallacher's notes could not be updated. Davies thought he had an ally in the chief executive, another former player, but he thought wrong. The Scarlets reached the semi-finals of the Heineken Cup last season but failed to register a point in their pool this year. In addition, recruitment has been misguided.
Nigel Davies is the favourite to take over the role of head coach, but perhaps the acting coach, Paul Moriarty, is in with a shout. Yesterday he spent half the match yelling at the referee.
Jenkins, who was axed as Wales coach after the World Cup, could return to Stradey as an elite performance director. Elite performances have been thin on the ground here and the contrast between the Scarlets and Munster, who once again have reached the final of the Heineken Cup, is stark. Yesterday, though, the Scarlets turned in one of their more convincing performances.
They led 20-5 at the interval and were holding on at 23-16 when Munster scored eight points deep into injury time. It looked like being a case of alas, poor Warwick. The stand-off Paul Warwick, a second-half replacement for Ronan O'Gara, scored a try in the 85th minute and his own conversion, which would have levelled the scores at 23-23, hit an upright.
However, it was alas poor old Scarlets when Warwick, from two yards inside his own half, landed a penalty in the 10th minute of added time to win the match.
After Munster's Ian Dowling had raced 60 yards for a try in the fifth minute, the first half belonged to the Scarlets. With the help of a gale – the wind of change was blowing through West Wales – Stephen Jones knocked over two penalties to give his side the lead and then they capitalised while the Munster flanker David Wallace was in the sin-bin for rustling an attempted pass from Gavin Cattle. Dafydd James, on the right wing, put in a mazy little run that was too good for the Munster defence and then the left wing, Matthew Watkins, cut inside to beat three defenders, including O'Gara, to score at the posts. It was an embarrassing miss to touch by O'Gara from a penalty award that gave the Scarlets the chance in the first place.
When Wallace returned he fastened on to a clever chip by O'Gara but lost possession in the act of scoring. It is not many teams who enjoy a half-time advantage of 15 points against the Irish province.
With the wind at their backs, Munster quickly cut the deficit to seven points, Dowling getting a second try, but the home side looked like securing the victory until Warwick's late late show.
A bad week for Llanelli ended in controversy, for Moriarty revealed afterwards that the fourth official had indicated to the referee, Neil Patterson, that time was up after Warwick's failed conversion. Patterson, however, played another five minutes.
Munster too will be looking for a new director of rugby, after Declan Kidney is appointed coach of Ireland. Perhaps Big Phil should fire off a CV to Limerick.
Llanelli Scarlets: M Stoddart; D James, G Evans, N Brew, M Watkins; S Jones (capt; M Priestland, 80), G Cattle (L Davies, 58) ; I Thomas (P John, 66), M Rees (M Schwalger, 64), D Manu, V Cooper, S MacLeod (L Reed, 70), D Jones, N Thomas (J Bater, 56), G Thomas.
Munster: D Hurley; D Howlett (B Carney, 62), L Mafi, R Tipoki (P Stringer, 49), I Dowling; R O'Gara (P Warwick, 62), T O'Leary; M Horan (F Pucciarello, 35), J Flannery (F Sheahan, 49), J Hayes, D O'Callaghan (M O'Driscoll, 62), P O'Connell (capt), A Quinlan, D Leamy (T Ryan, 49), D Wallace.
Referee: N Patterson (Scotland).
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