Munster earn Champions Cup place with five-try win over Scarlets
Munster secured their place in next season's Champions Cup after a hard-fought 31-15 victory over the Scarlets at Thomond Park earned them a sixth-place finish in the Guinness Pro12.
A disappointing season for Anthony Foley's side ended on a bright note as they scored five precious tries, three in the second half, to subdue the spirited Welshmen who had already secured their place in European rugby's top-tier competition.
Munster held a slender 14-12 half-time advantage in front of an attendance of 18,929 in Limerick. However, three second-half tries from replacement Ronan O'Mahony, man-of-the-match CJ Stander and centre Rory Scannell - his second of the game - guided the Irish province to a crucial final-round triumph.
The Scarlets deservedly took a 10th-minute lead through a penalty goal from fly-half Steve Shingler but as they continued to attack, the Welsh region got caught with a sucker punch.
Munster forced a turnover deep inside their own 22 and quickly moved the ball left. Centre Saili sent Ireland international Keith Earls darting up the wing with a beautifully-judged grubber kick. Earls powered into the Scarlets half before finding Saili in open space and he duly scampered clear before dotting down, with Johnny Holland converting.
The home side survived a major scare in the 19th minute when a try from Scarlets winger Steffan Evans was disallowed as referee Nigel Owens ruled that Hadleigh Parkes' pass in the build-up was forward.
Shingler did gain some degree of compensation for the Scarlets when he kicked his second penalty goal two minutes later but the hosts crossed for a second try through Scannell, who barged over from close range after a series of impressive carries from the Munster forwards.
Holland's conversion made it 14-6 before the resilient Scarlets drew within two points when Shingler was again on the money with two well-struck penalty kicks.
The third quarter provided poor fare with Munster clinging to a 14-12 advantage and growing increasingly nervous until turnover ball was won on halfway and Scannell fed replacement winger O'Mahony who showed a good turn of foot to outstrip the visitors' defence and score.
The Scarlets remained very much in the contest and a fifth penalty goal from Shingler on 65 minutes cut the lead to 19-15. Munster's place in the Champions Cup was very much in doubt again.
However, a bonus-point try from captain Stander in the 69th minute gave the province a more comfortable nine-point cushion and the impressive Scannell, who is moving up from the Academy to a senior contract, rounded off the scoring with his second try late on.