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HEROIC PERFORMANCE LEAVES SCARLETS RUEING MISSED OPPORTUNITIES

By Helen ‘Helzbach’ Davies

With confidence, high following a run of seven out of seven in the Pro12, a home win against Sale and a strong performance against reigning Champions Saracens, the Scarlets face Toulon full of belief that they are capable of pulling off a shock win in the French sunshine.

For once the only injury worry for Wayne Pivac was Centre Jonathan Foxy Davies, but with the current strength in-depth that the region boasts the backline still looked exciting, even without Foxy in the starting XV. A late withdrawal was Aaron Shingler due to his wife giving birth to their second child.

The home team had a dream start as they took full advantage of their field position as the strength of the Toulon pack saw Mamuka Gorgodze claim the first try. Welsh International Leigh Halfpenny added the easy conversion to give his current team an early 7 point to 0 lead. He then added another 3 points with an equally simple penalty to extend the lead to 10 points to 0.

This margin didn’t last long however as Rhys Patchell opened the scoring for the Scarlets with a penalty to bring the score line to 10 points to 3.

Despite the threat of the Toulon midfield, the Scarlets demonstrated some good attacking rugby, running angles that threatened the home team’s defence. They were soon rewarded for their efforts as Patchell slotted over a second…Toulon 10 – Scarlets 6.

Unfortunately, it took just one missed tackle in midfield with Bastareaud causing huge problems for the Scarlets defence, before Halfpenny crossed the whitewash for Toulon’s second try. He added the conversion to extend their lead to 17 points to 6.

Try number 3 came shortly afterwards with Romain Taofifenua taking full advantage of his long arms to stretch and just ground the ball. Again, Halfpenny maintained the 100% kicking record as the home team built up a commanding lead of 24 points to 6 with just half an hour on the clock.

Great finishing from Captain Ken Owens finally saw the Scarlets cross the whitewash, as he crashed over from short range. Patchell added the conversion to give a half time score of 24 points to 13.

The Scarlets began the second half in the same manner in which they ended the first. Gareth Davies was literally millimeters away from scoring the Scarlets’ second try, resulting in the awarding of a scrum V, though the Scarlets were extremely unlucky not to have been awarded a penalty try as Suta clearly made the tackle on Davies whilst being on the floor. This should have been picked up by both the referee and the TMO, however amazingly they seemed to have been concentrating only on the grounding of the ball.

Stretching the Toulon defence, Steff Evans crossed the whitewash once more, however, despite video evidence suggesting the ball went backwards in the build-up to the try, the TMO deemed the ball had been knocked on and the home team was offered the opportunity to relieve the pressure and once more attack the Welsh region.

Toulon gained their try bonus point shortly after using the power of their forwards to drive over the whitewash. Halfpenny again added the conversion to further extend the home side’s lead to 31 points to 13, leaving the Scarlets rue the missed opportunities that could have changed the game dramatically as they could at one point been just 4 points behind.

The majority of the second half was a rather see-saw affair with a huge amount of turn overs and play switching hands between Toulon and the Scarlets without either team making a huge impact or looking like scoring a try.

Try scorer Taofifenua did offer the visitors some glimmer of hope as he was yellow-carded with less than 10 minutes on the clock, giving the Scarlets the opportunity to take full advantage of their extra man to gain some reward for their performance.

A combination of pace and the angles of play finally resulted John Barclay scoring a second try for the Scarlets, though the try could have and should have been scored before albeit had the timing of the passes been correct. Patchell added the conversion to bring his team to within 11 points – 31 points to 20 and suddenly a losing bonus point seemed possible.

Despite their strong second half performance, time ran out for the Scarlets and the score remained 31 – 20 at the final whistle. However, the Scarlets will face the return fixture next Sunday at Parc y Scarlets safe in the knowledge that they put in a good performance against a strong Toulon team and played for 80 minutes without taking their foot off the gas. Unforced errors and missed opportunities cost them, but if these are stamped out next week the result could be totally different next week. Kickoff is at 1pm.

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