It wasn’t typical attacking Scarlets rugby last Saturday, but with a full five points in the bag against Edinburgh, the Scarlets faced their second home game in less than a week against Connacht, a perfect curtain-raiser before the visit next week across the bridge and the start of this season’s Champions Cup campaign.
Connacht’s visit to Parc y Scarlets comes after the team’s last gasp loss against the Blues last week as last season’s Pro12 Champions face the Champions from the previous season.
The home team had a dream start as they kicked for the corner, however the Connacht defence held firm.
In-form Johnny McNicholl soon opened the try count for the Scarlets as he gratefully received the off-load from Jonathan Davies to cross under the posts. Leigh Halfpenny added the extras to give the home team an early 7 point to 0 lead.
Connacht fought back immediately from the restart with Outside Half Jack Carty gathering following a stray pass from Scott Williams to cross for the try. His conversion drew the score level – 7 points all.
The Scarlets had the opportunity to go ahead once more with an easy penalty attempt for Halfpenny. However, for only the second time this season, since his first kick in the Kings game, the ball sailed wide.
With National Coach Warren Gatland and crew in the stands, Steff Evans would certainly have staked his claim for a place in the Autumn Internationals squad with try number two. Showing a huge workload, his turn of pace as he cut inside was superb. Again, Halfpenny was off-target with the conversion, but the Scarlets were once more in the lead, 12 points to 7.
Jack Carty kept the Connacht score board ticking over as he added another penalty to bring the visitors back to within two points – 12 points to 10.
Another Scarlet putting his hand up for National selection was Rhys Patchell as he squeezed in in the corner for the Scarlets’ third try of the evening. Due to a hint of a forward pass, Patchell quickly took the conversion, and missed, but referee Nigel Owens decided to consult the TMO. On awarding the try, Halfpenny found his kicking boots once more to add the extras to give the Scarlets a 19 points to 10 lead.
Connacht certainly demonstrated their determination to compete in the game as they continued to attack. Good work in mid-field saw Wing Tiernan O’Halloran cross in the corner as the visitors remained within striking distance of the Scarlets. Carty again added the conversion to cut the deficit to 2 points once more – 19 points to 17.
With just 5 minutes remaining of the first half, Connacht took the lead for the first time as Cian Kelleher crossed in the corner. The missed conversion from Carty gave his side just a three-point advantage – 19 points to 22.
But, the half wasn’t quite over, and another break from Jonathan Davies released Leigh Halfpenny who crossed for his second try in Scarlets colours, giving the Champions the try bonus point. His conversion gave the Scarlets a 26 points to 22 lead at half time in what has been quite a game of rugby.
In comparison, the second half took a while to ignite. Strong defensive work from Leigh Halfpenny and Aled Davies manage to keep Connacht out and they were unlucky not to be within a point as a long-range penalty from Darragh Leader just sailed wide.
Halfpenny added his first penalty attempt to give the home team some breathing space and increase the Scarlets’ lead to 29 points to 22.
Continued attack from Connacht certainly tested the Scarlets defence but the hard work done by Defence Coach, Byron Hayward was evident as the Scarlets competed at the break-down to turn defence into attack.
With a huge game against the Ospreys next weekend the home team used the bench in an attempt to play the percentage game and protect the score-line for the last 10 minutes that saw Wing Tom Prydie made his first Pro14 appearance for the Scarlets.
With just over 5 minutes remaining, a penalty for Connacht, much to the amusement of the Parc y Scarlets faithful saw the visitors kick for the corner, resulting in Tiernan O’Halloran crossing for his second try of the evening. Parc y Scarlets sighed a communal sigh of relief as Carty’s conversion sailed wide of the posts as the home team entered the final minutes with a slender two-point lead – 29 points to 27 as Sosban Fach echoed around the ground.
In very much the same way as the first half ended, the Scarlets had the final word, with Tadhg Beirne stealing the ball from Steff Evans to score the Scarlets’ fifth try of the evening. Halfpenny added an important conversion to give a final score of 36 points to 27, thus denying the Irish province of their losing bonus point.
Next Saturday the Scarlets travel across Loughour Bridge to face an Ospreys team that had earlier been thrashed by the Cheetahs in South Africa and are facing a tough start to the season with their only victory so far, the opening match against Zebre.
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