What a win, what a performance, what a team! Hats off to everyone at the Scarlets because they’ve managed to do something I didn’t think was possible this season and that’s for a Welsh team to win the PRO12 title. The game in Dublin had me on the edge of my seat, and it’s difficult for me to find the words to sum up just how good Scarlets were.
I honestly don’t know where to start, I’m just so, so happy for everyone involved at the region because the way they play the game was well and truly rewarded on the biggest of stages.
Yes Munster were poor, inexplicably so at times, but don’t let that take anything away from the way Wayne Pivac’s men played. Simply put, they blew Munster away with some breathtaking rugby. A final scoreline of 46-22, who’d have thought it?!
Just look at the way the Scarlets scored their tries in the first half. It was beautiful, yet simple rugby and you can’t say Munster weren’t warned. Did they watch the Scarlets’ semi-final with Leinster at all?
Liam Williams, Steffan Evans and Gareth Davies all finished off impressive team moves before the break, and then there was Tadgh Beirne’s powerful score. It really was poetry in motion.
I was lucky to secure a PRO12 title win with the Ospreys in Dublin and that was the last time a Welsh side lifted domestic silverware prior to this game. It remains one of the finest moments of my career, but for me the way the Scarlets secured victory tops what we achieved at the RDS against Leinster back in 2012.
Here’s the reason why. This was more than just a final victory, it was superlative attacking rugby played at pace and with the highest level of accuracy. All against a team who had the meanest defence in the PRO12 going into the game. I just can’t give enough credit to everyone down at the Scarlets and they deserve all the praise that’s going to come their way in the next couple of days.
Everywhere I looked there were heroes wearing red. Let me start with my area of expertise. I’ve banged on all season about Steff Evans, but he showed at the Aviva just why I rate him so highly.
He was on the scoresheet once again, finishing off an incredible team move which saw Scarlets go the length of the field to score. To score four tries before half time would have been more than Pivac would have expected, but the truth is it could well have been more than that.
Back to Steff. His work rate is just so high, and he gets his rewards for that. He always seems to find himself on the end of the try-scoring pass and some might think that’s just luck. I can tell you from my experience, it isn’t. If you’re prepared to track the carrier, you will get your hands on the ball and Steff is a good example of that. I can’t wait to see him in action for Wales this summer.
I could give every single Scarlets player a special mention, and I thought Beirne, Aaron Shingler, who was the official man of the match, James Davies and Rob Evans were all outstanding in the pack.
But in the backs, I’d like to single out Rhys Patchell. I thought he was brilliant. I can’t believe he won’t be involved with Wales against Tonga and Samoa.
His chip for Liam’s first try was inch-perfect and after missing an early kick, he was excellent from the tee.
It’s important the whole of Welsh rugby now builds on their success.
For so long I’ve heard that the Welsh regions can’t compete with the Irish provinces in the PRO12, that our budgets simply aren’t big enough to win titles. What rubbish! Scarlets have proved it can be done, and the challenge now is for this to be just the start of our teams pushing for silverware.
We’ve had domestic success in the past, and not capitalised on it. Welsh regions lifting trophies has been the exception, rather than the rule, and I really do hope this can be the springboard for further success.
Looking ahead to the Lions tour, Warren Gatland would have been very impressed by what he saw from Liam Williams and Jonathan Davies. What a player Liam is.
It took him just a couple of minutes to make an impact and one area of his game Liam has really improved on is his contact work. He secured an early turnover and then finished off Rhys Patchell’s cross-kick for the Scarlets’ first try. It wasn’t easy, but he made it look like it was. After that, he didn’t get much ball in attack, but he was outstanding under the high ball and rock solid in defence.
Warren will want the players he picks to face New Zealand to do the basics well and Liam certainly does that. I really think he could end up pushing very hard for a Test spot on the wing. Then there’s Jonathan who is finding form just at the right time.
Jon is known as ‘the Fox’ in the Wales camp and for me he’s likely to edge Jonathan Joseph for the Test 13 jersey against the All Blacks. By his own admission, I think Jon would have been disappointed by some of his performances this season. But in the last few months, he’s been outstanding. In Dublin, we saw him step up on the big stage, as he always tends to do.
We all know Jon has a good left foot, a great fend, and a deceptive turn of pace. But having played with him for Wales, I know Jon is really on top of his game when he’s marshalling his team’s defence.
He was in fine form in that area in Dublin, and his reading of the game is just on another level. There was one moment when he dropped out of the line to claim a chip ahead from Simon Zebo. That summed it all up for me. At times, his rugby brain is just one step ahead of the other players on the field and his flick for DTH Van der Merwe’s fifth try was just sheer class.
I’m delighted for everyone at the Scarlets, but especially Liam – who lifted the title in his last game before joining Saracens – and Jon. Both are local boys who grew up as Scarlets fans. Now they can head for New Zealand with the Lions with their confidence through the roof. For Warren, that’s a pretty handy situation to be in.