The Wally Ratings

Guinness PRO14 R1 :: Scarlets 27 Munster 30

This was a game dominated by two factors – the weather and the referee’s whistle. First, the whistle – I felt that the referee Sam Grove-White (in only his 8th competitive game) had an unbalanced, nervy outing but he certainly wasn’t helped by his experienced assistants in Nigel Owens, Dan Jones and his TMO Ben Whitehouse. The TMO decision to pick out Peter O’Mahony from this incident was particularly bizarre.

If you agree with the concept that O’Mahony should have been sin-binned for this – and I do – then you must also agree that there’s an equally valid argument for both Jake Ball (dropping the shoulder on Farrell after the grounding) and Keiron Hardy (sliding in with his knees on Farrell after the grounding) to see the same punishment.

In this example, Stander gets caught on the wrong side of the tackle but, crucially, the referee says “ball is available” so, as you’d expect, Stander stops trying to move (he’s being pinned in regardless by Kruger) because any further movement would make him illegal after the referee told him that the ball was available.

The referee changes his mind a second later and awards a penalty to Scarlets. Was Stander on the wrong side? Yes. Did the referee tell him to stop moving by saying “ball is available”? Yes. Did the referee then penalise Stander for doing what he told him to do? Yes.

There were a few incidents like this during the game where one side was being coached while the other was being punished with full penalties but, at the same time, some of our tackle discipline on a day when there would be a lot of movement in contact left a fair bit to be desired.

This, for example, looks soft enough but given the context of what we’d seen for much of the game, that extra second of “grip” by Healy on the floor was enough to convince the referee to award a penalty even though the ball was clearly available.

We know that the ball is available in quick order because the scrumhalf isn’t complaining yet this was one in particular where I felt like we didn’t adapt to how we were being refereed.

When Scarlets were rolling into the clean-out players after the tackle to give their jackals more space to work three minutes later, the referee saw there was illegality after the tackle and on the jackal (enough to consider awarding a penalty) but he chose to verbally warn Davies instead.

It was a tough game for Sam Grove-White in difficult, greasy conditions but I think he’ll know himself that he had too much influence in the game.

If anything, this match showed that if you give Leigh Halfpenny nine shots at goal he’ll score 27 points.

I’m going to make a fair bit of Ben Healy’s winner but to ignore the ruthless efficiency of Halfpenny from all over the pitch on a day when underfoot and air conditions were perilous would be to do him a disservice. Left side, right side, long-range – it didn’t matter. Halfpenny punished every single Munster infringement with three points. His goal kicking was world-class and would have deservedly won this game for Scarlets all on its own.

As for Munster, the reaction to Munster’s tactics during and after the game deserves a bit of a rewind. To get the full context, you have to understand the weather conditions and how they would dictate both sides approach. There was really heavy rain for much of the day and during the game itself so the surface would be heavy and make retaining the ball quite difficult, especially in the early game.

There was also a swirling 35-45km wind blowing across the stadium in advance of Storm Alex and this would make exiting quite difficult.

Against strong opposition, these conditions would dictate that you’d probably not want to play a whole load of discretionary phases in your own half of the field, especially in the early game. Why? Because hanging onto the ball at the end of multiple passes would be incrementally more difficult and any handling errors in and around your 22 could easily be transformed into seven points without the opposition having to work for them. When you, the ball and the underfoot conditions are wet, the defending team has more wiggle room to (a) close the distance on you (b) disrupt your handling and (c) profit from minor errors that wouldn’t be a factor on a drier track.

When you’re playing a “strong as they can go” Scarlets team in a game where scoring opportunities would be quite limited, it means a fair bit of kicking for position to change where the game would be played. If you were playing someone like, say, the Southern Kings in these conditions, you’d feel pretty comfortable in playing more expansively in your own half because you’d be confident in your ability to generate more try-scoring opportunities regardless. Against a team full of quality players like the Scarlets, you would naturally be more conservative.

That said, when we got any kind of field position in the Scarlets half OR a turnover in our half, we looked to play.

This lineout steal, for example, saw Munster chain six passes across the field before Sweetnam got dragged into touch, aided by the greasy surface.

When Scarlets coughed up the ball in their own half off a restart, Munster went through three or four good phases before setting up a De Allende and Farrell squeeze on Steff Evans in the wide channels.

Evans has to blitz up on De Allende and Farrell – that creates the opportunity for Hanrahan.

This is nice, smooth handling from Marshall and the outside-in compression from O’Mahony on Davies at the edge of the screen creates an opportunity for Haley to have a cut off Jones as the Scarlets’ #10 steps out of the backfield.

My biggest issue with this game was the quality of our lineout, especially in the first half. This one counted as a “win” in that we retained the ball but the scheme itself didn’t create the separation for O’Donoghue at the back that we would have liked.

The throw is slightly off here too, which gives Thomson a bit of a leg up but these issues were pretty common for much of the first three-quarters of this one. Again, the conditions played a part, but this area of the game hurt our fluency.

Strangely enough, our first try came off the back of this lineout and subsequent tight phases where we were stripped in contact. The Scarlets broke free, kicked downfield and then this happened.

This is outstanding work from Haley, Conway, De Allende and O’Donoghue. Once Haley springs the offload to Conway, this is on. De Allende’s line outside Conway is perfect and it maintains the play for Conway who can isolate the backfield defender from a few metres back to put De Allende away down the tramline.

O’Donoghue reads the break early and pours forward in a perfect support run to make himself available for whatever happens.

A fair bit has been made of Kleyn’s “block” in the early part of this break but he never changes his line and looks out of the play early.

The collision with Owens looked dramatic but it’s “play on” for me.

The second half was, uh… something else. We’ll get to the early part of the half first where we were OK but constantly undermined by conceding three points on almost every defensive set.

I don’t think JJ Hanrahan had a strong game here, mainly because I think he was oversimplifying things. In a game like this, I think less is more from your #10. You aren’t going to have too many opportunities to shape the game with ball in hand but when you do get opportunities, you have to take them. In oversimplifying, for me, I think that manifested itself carrying ball he should have maybe moved on.

This is a decent example from early in the second half.

This wasn’t the worst option – and we won a penalty later in the sequence – but I’d like to have a look at a pass out to De Allende here. We had Farrell and Sweetnam providing width and Scarlets’ lock Sam Lousi was the last edge defender in the primary defensive line.

This feels like one of those small moments in a game in these conditions where there might be more on offer than a tight carry. There were a few other little flubs too in a tough outing for him. His replacement, Ben Healy, would come into a game that Munster were losing by 11 points. It didn’t start perfectly – Healy was pushed into touch on his first touch of the ball and failed to find touch with a clearing penalty – but he kept at it.

He drove this kick right where it needed to be to pull Halfpenny and Jones back to their 5m line. Better. It would get much better.

We were still conceding kickable penalties but were starting to pressure Scarlets on the gainline at the other end. Our second try came off the back of strong, tight ball carrying and ruthless breakdown work. Watch O’Mahony’s clean out after Wycherley’s carry here for an example, followed up by Coombes taking out three Scarlets’ defenders.

Casey’s pass to Farrell was exactly what it needed to be and the finish was crucial. Scarlets kicked a penalty straight from the restart to undermind the try scored but the 14 men of Munster weren’t done with this game just yet. 10 points down with 9 minutes on the clock – tough, but doable.

Munster started well with an excellent take and run-back from Mike Haley after a well-pressured restart. The kick held up in the wind but Haley was able for it.

Scarlets ended up on the wrong side of a tackle and were penalised. Healy had a tough kick to drag the game back to seven points but he made it.

A few minutes later, Wycherley disrupted a Scarlets lineout to force a knock-on.

Munster won a scrum penalty from that Scarlets’ knock-on and Healy made no mistake, drilling the ball 30m up the field against the wind.

A big hustle play by Rory Scannell won back the ball for Munster after a passing error from Cronin but we made ground from that position after a great carry from O’Byrne. We know that when Munster get position like this, we play and so we did.

Coombes compressed the Scarlets’ press with a perfect fix and pass on a screen to Healy, who found Beirne. Beirne made a big carry over the gainline to set Munster up with a dominant centre-field position that would drag Scarlets across the pitch.

From there, Munster reset on the right side of the field before coming back across the field. Coombes, again, found a perfect pass to bring De Allende into the game around the corner and the World Cup-winning midfielder made a top-class break on the surge around the side of the screen.

Davies was on the wrong side after the tackle, Hardy lost his feet and Munster would have a penalty. Healy drove to the 5m, O’Byrne found Coombes at the tail and a powerful maul brought Munster to within two. Healy had a difficult kick from the left touchline to with the wind gusting into his face.

He drained it.

From the restart, Scarlets won back the ball but committed two crucial errors. Kalamafoni was caught by the TMO for a neck roll and, off the resulting penalty lineout, James Davies played the ball on the floor after being taken off his feet by Damian De Allende.

That would give Ben Healy a kick to win the game from the halfway line.

It’s not just a case of whether he had the range because he did. The problem was that Healy knew that the wind would be blowing into his face on this kick once the ball got above a certain level so he would have to keep the height of the kick low or the wind would kill it or blow it off course at this range.

In the 81st minute, with adrenaline probably dancing through him, on a soaking wet pitch Ben Healy would have to strike this ball over 50m while keeping the trajectory low and straight. If he loses his footing even slightly, it falls short or screws right. If he strikes the ball even slight off-target from where it needs to be, the kick will fall short or fade left.

Big moment. Does he have it?

Does he ever.

Every young player needs a collection of moments to make it as a top player. This was one of those moments for Ben Healy. The thing is, if he makes it as a player he’ll likely kick 40 kicks more important than this one but this memory of backing himself and coming up big will stand to him the next time he stands over a big kick. For a 21-year-old player coming off the bench in his fourth senior appearance, this was a colossal moment. He’s a work in progress around the field but Ben Healy’s goalkicking dragged Munster back into this game before whipping away all four points at the death.

This was far from a perfect performance – not even close – but the iron in the bones needed to come back from two tries worth of points down in the last fifteen minutes with 14 men for 13 of those minutes is something that shouldn’t be forgotten either.

The Wally Ratings: Scarlets (A)

The Wally Ratings explainer page is here.  

Players are rated based on their time on the pitch, if they were playing notably out of position, and on the overall curve of the team performance. DNP means the player did not feature and N/A means they weren’t on the pitch long enough to warrant a fair rating.

James Cronin★★★
Rhys Marshall★★
John Ryan★★★
Jean Kleyn★★★
Tadhg Beirne★★★
Peter O'Mahony★★
Jack O'Donoghue★★
CJ Stander★★★
Craig Casey★★★
JJ Hanrahan★★
Darren Sweetnam★★★
Damian De Allende★★★★★
Chris Farrell★★★
Andrew Conway★★★
Mike Haley★★★★
Kevin O'Byrne★★★
Jeremy Loughman★★★
Stephen Archer★★★
Fineen Wycherley★★★★
Gavin Coombes★★★★★
Neil CroninN/A
Ben Healy★★★★
Rory Scannell★★★

Notable Players

Peter O’Mahony had a weird game. He spent 23 minutes in the sin-bin, spent most of the game organising the defensive press, grafting in the lineout and cleaning Munster breakdowns with a mean streak from years gone by. On my third watch, I saw all the little things that O’Mahony did in this game and the nasty edge that saw him carded twice was something I think we needed in this game, cards and resulting numerical disadvantages aside.

That said, the game mostly passed him by offensively and it seemed like he’d be better paired with a different back row construction, especially when the offensive lineout struggled.

You can say much the same about Jack O’Donoghue who put in a mountain of dirty work – and was at the end of a lovely score – but got lost in the woods a little, for me. I think O’Donoghue and O’Mahony fill largely similar roles and when both are in the same back row, I think they can sometimes cancel each other out.

I thought Mike Haley had a super solid game at fullback on a day when it would have been easy to slip and slide your way to an error-strewn display. His work on transition played a key part in two important Munster scores. He was exactly what he needed to be on a dirty day at the office.

Fineen Wycherley came off the bench and played a tighthead lock style role for half an hour. On the evidence of this, that role really suits him. He was blasting rucks with real venom and making crucial interventions in the lineout on both sides of the throw and in the maul.

Wycherley is turning into a real heavy-hitting dirty work specialist and, at just 22, he’s not even close to the player he’s going to be as he matures even further. Impressive.

Ben Healy kicked the winner and wasn’t a bit afraid to play ball in this game. He wasn’t faultless by any means but any young kicker who can land the difficult, heavy pressure kicks that Healy did is on the right track. Hugely encouraging stuff.

When you sign a guy like Damian De Allende, you know you’re going to get power, defensive excellence and, well, quality. This is the type of game where that quality shows. De Allende was outstanding here. He made excellent defensive reads, counter-rucks, cleanouts – all the dirty stuff – but he showed up big with a crucial assist and some outstanding ball-carrying and passing in big moments. Farrell was good too but he played a fair bit of the second half oscillating between the wing and midfield.

When Munster were chasing the lead, the World Cup winner was right in the heart of the leadership group driving the team on.

When it came time to make something happen with the ball in hand, he was right at the heart of that too. Absolute ★★★★★ quality.

The following GIF shows a key point in the winning of this game.

When Gavin Coombes rumbled onto the field in the 62nd minute, Munster went from parity and worse on the gainline to winning collisions and advancing possession up the field. It isn’t just that Coombes is massive and capable of bossing the contact in tight exchanges on a day when defences would have the advantages, he was pulling back accurate passes after establishing his physical threat with the ball in hand. Scarlets began to react to Coombes power and compress around him – when they did, he moved the ball on accurately for gains every time.

He took lineouts, he scrummaged in the second row, he attacked breakdowns, he dominated every single physical contest he took on. He was a real difference-maker for Munster on a day when a difference needed to be made. Top class ★★★★★