Young fly-half Williams puts O'Gara in the shade
THEY were raising a glass to Owen Williams at Parc y Scarlets on Saturday — and not just because the young fly-half had knocked a few pence off their beer for the evening.
The region has come up with a promotion that for every point scored by the home side, a penny comes off the price of a pint.
And while 18 pence may not constitute a reason to empty the barrels, a first win over Munster at Parc y Scarlets must have felt very much like Happy Hour for the Scarlets faithful.
Just a month ago, after Simon Easterby's beleaguered troops had been nilled by Clermont Auvergne in the final round of Heineken Cup pool fixtures, the post-match tipple was being used as a means of drowning sorrows. But after this third successive home victory, there is a feeling that there might still be something to celebrate this season.
At the heart of it all was a 20-year-old who had yet to make his Pro12 debut at the start of the month.
Yet on the evidence of Williams's measured displays in recent weeks, the Scarlets will justifiably feel they have unearthed another gem.
The Ystradgynlais product, who came through the academy ranks of the Ospreys, has been a revelation.
In the past month he has come up against England international Danny Cipriani, former Crusaders Super 15 star Dan Bowden, Scotland's Dan Parks and the most capped player in Irish rugby history, Ronan O'Gara.
And not one has cast a shadow over him.
Crucially, his points-gathering — he has landed 59 points in his past three matches — has fuelled a confident swagger to his game. And it has meant the Scarlets have been able to pull away from sides in a style not too dissimilar to Munster and O'Gara in their pomp.
As for the veteran Ireland No. 10, it was a night to forget.
Scarlets fans have long become used to seeing O'Gara's metronomic boot bisecting the posts to seal crucial victories for the Irish province.
But on a night where he was supposed to end the debate about who will replace the injured Jonny Sexton against the rejuvenated Scots on Saturday, the 35-year-old was woefully out of sync.
He landed just one kick from four, hitting the upright with two penalty attempts from straight in front.
And it helped the Scarlets pull clear to claim their first double over Munster since their Celtic League title- winning campaign of 2003-04.
"It was important that we got four points and they got nothing," said a satisfied Easterby afterwards. "In terms of the top four and playing a team in a similar position to us, it was huge.
"We missed out on a couple of points last year that lost us a top-four spot, so that could well be crucial come the end of the season."
Reflecting on the all-round performance, Easterby added: "It was good. We managed the game pretty well, territory was good, we stayed in the arm wrestle and we got points when we needed and probably missed a couple of opportunities to get more than three.
"But Owen kicked his goals and it gave us reward for some of that territory and possession."
It came as no surprise when Williams was announced as the official man of the match, although his 20-year-old half-back partner Aled Davies pushed him close.
The fact that the youthful pairing have been able to showcase their talents in recent weeks is testimony to the platform being laid in front of them.
Again, the South African duo of George Earle and Joe Snyman put in a huge shift, with ball in hand and defensively, and appear to be growing into the no-nonsense partnership Easterby would have hoped for when he snapped them up in the summer.
Behind them, Wales squad member Josh Turnbull and skipper Rob McCusker were abrasive presences in the back row, and that allowed Davies to snipe dangerously around the fringes as well as fire out the bullet passes that have earned him such rave reviews coming through the ranks.
There was also more potency out wide.
Gareth Maule and Adam Warren formed a solid midfield partnership, while full-back Gareth Owen produced another classy display before taking a knock to the same knee that forced him to spend 14 months out of the game.
Owen's break then inside pass to wing Andy Fenby in the first half was one of a number of threatening home attacks in an entertaining opening period.
However, the Scarlets were unable to add the polished finish to reward the promising build-up and had to be satisfied with forging a 9-3 half-time lead through the boot of Williams.
The second half was a more fractured affair.
Two more penalties from Williams pushed the Scarlets 12 points clear, before the fly-half landed a sweet drop-goal while Munster skipper Mike Sherry was sitting out ten minutes in the cooler.
Munster did claim a late consolation with wing Denis Hurley crossing in the final move of the match after Williams had been shown yellow for an offence in the shadow of the uprights, but it had no bearing on a play-off picture that will provide Scarlets fans with huge encouragement for the final seven rounds.
Having leapfrogged the Ospreys into fourth in the table, the Scarlets head to Dublin this Saturday for another match which could see the top four go into shuffle mode.
It promises to be an intriguing end-of-season battle. And this win keeps the Scarlets very much in there fighting.