PARC Y SCARLETS has been a tricky venue down the years for Munster, and Johann van Graan’s side can certainly expect the toughest test of the season to date as they face the Scarlets in the United Rugby Championship on Sunday.
M Gallagher; C Nash, L Coombes, D Goggin, S Daly; B Healy, N Cronin; J Loughman, D Barron, S Archer; T Ahern, F Wycherley; J O’Donoghue (c), C Cloete, J O’Sullivan.
K O’Byrne, J Wycherley, J Ryan, RG Snyman, A Kendellen, P Patterson, J Crowley, J Daly.
It is just over 12 months since Munster stole victory at this venue when Ben Healy kicked a monster penalty from inside his own half with the final kick of the game to win the tie b 30-27.
Munster had been down to 14 men for the last 11 minutes after captain Peter O’Mahony had received a red card, but they still managed the unlikely feat of coming from 14 points down with quarter of an hour remaining to win.
The Scarlets opened their URC campaign with a narrow 26-22 defeat up at Edinburgh’s brand-new DAM Health Stadium but followed that up with a comprehensive 36-13 victory over the Emirates Lions in Llanelli in Round 2.
Wingers Tom Rogers and Steff Evans scored a brace of tries each, which says a lot about their attacking play, and perhaps gives a clue as to what faces Munster on Sunday.
In that victory, the Scarlets fielded Johnny McNicholl at full-back and Welsh international centre pairing Jonathan Davies and Scott Williams, who all have had joy against Munster back lines in the past. They certainly will not have any fear of Munster on home turf.
The back row battle is bound to play a major part in deciding this one, and in that respect, Munster will have to pay particular attention to their main ball carriers, blindside Scottish international Blade Thomson and the big Tongan number eight Sione Kalamafoni.
While Munster beat the Sharks and the Stormers relatively easily in the end, in the opening two rounds, both performances were far from perfect.
One of the biggest concerns for Munster has to be the form of out-half Joey Carbery.
The Ireland out-half made his return from long-term injury hell last February and here we are, a full eight months later, and we are still looking for signs of the player that he was pre-injury.
It might be a case of remaining patient, but with talented young 10s Ben Healy, Jack Crowley, and Jake Flannery all chomping at the bit for game time, surely Munster cannot wait forever.
This is a trend that is not going to go away any time soon, as all teams are likely to attempt this if it is perceived as a defensive weakness which, at the moment, it clearly is.
Carbery’s goal-kicking, kicking out of hand and general play-making has been a bit below par in the early games too.
With the squad likely to be rotated considerably in the next few rounds we might, very quickly, find ourselves in a situation where there is a genuine challenge to Carbery’s status as Munster’s number one out-half.
From his brief cameos on the opening two weekends, it would appear that the aforementioned Healy is ready to kick on and become a more senior player within the Munster set-up. This can only be a good thing.
Last week Keith Earls got a rare run out at outside centre and barring injuries in a major game, where no specialist centre is available off the bench, it is unlikely the experiment is going to be repeated.
It was worth a try though, as Munster head coach Johann van Graan is clearly going to have a hard time to get all of his best back three players on the pitch at once. Mike Haley, Andrew Conway, Simon Zebo, and Earls would all consider themselves as first-team players, but four into three does not go.
And that’s before you even consider the merits of the likes of Shane Daly, Calvin Nash, Matt Gallagher, or Liam Coombes, who was in scintillating form for Garryowen last weekend with two tries in Trinity College.
With plenty of attacking talent on show, we can expect another high-scoring affair between these two rivals, but Munster will be confident that their pack will ultimately be too strong for the Scarlets.