SCARLETS HEARTBREAK AS SARRIES SNEAK A DRAW
By Helen ‘Helzbach’ Davies
Following the historic victory against the mighty Toulon before Christmas, the Scarlets’ European Champions Cup campaign with probably the one of the biggest games in Parc y Scarlets’ short history…Wales v England. Defending Champions Saracens are the opponents in a must win game for the home team if they are to keep alive their slim hopes of progressing further, whilst Saracens remain dominant at the top of the pool.
Saracens are relative new-comers to top flight rugby and have only played fixtures against the likes of the Scarlets since 1990, however in the 5 previous encounters they have bragging rights with 3 victories in comparison to the Scarlets’ 2. Despite winning the previous encounter at home, Saracens will be fully aware of the threat of the current Scarlets squad as the performance that day is probably the best one of the season, despite the score-line.
It will also be a huge match for Scarlets’ Liam Williams following the long-awaited announcement this week that he has signed a 3-year deal to join today’s opponents at the end of the season.
The Scarlets certainly demonstrated their intent right from the start as they maintained possession and worked their way through the phases before Ken Owens came within inches of scoring the first try of the afternoon as it was deemed his lost the ball forward just centimetres short of grounding it over the try line. The reaction from the whole team when the Scarlets won a penalty from the subsequent scrum certainly summed up the belief these players have in their ability to topple another of the best sides in Europe. Dan Jones made no mistake with his penalty attempt to give the home team an early 3 point to 0 lead.
Despite being awarded a penalty, Saracens’ Outside Half and Captain Owen Farrell opted to kick for the corner. Nathan Earle dived in in the corner after receiving what looked like a forward pass, however the TMO allowed the try and Saracens took the lead for the first time. Farrell missed the conversion and the score remained 3 points to 5.
Within seconds the Scarlets had the opportunity to re-take the lead, with Dan Jones maintaining his accuracy with the boot to put the home team ahead by a point – 6 points to 5.
At the breakdown, the Scarlets forward certainly maintained their dominance and a monster kick saw the men in red back in the Saracens’ 22 and edging closer to the try line once more.
The confidence in the home team grew and grew as they fought for every ball. Despite the opportunity to further increase their lead towards the end of the first half, they took the decision to kick for the corner and despite heroic attempts to cross the whitewash had to settle for the 3 points with Dan Jones successful with his 3rd penalty – 9 points to 5.
A huge roar echoed through Parc y Scarlets as Farrell missed an easy penalty attempt as the game reached the end of the first half.
England Wing Chris Ashton dropping the ball offered the Scarlets a good attacking position at the start of the second half. An immense effort from the forwards in the scrum saw the home team awarded a penalty as Dan Jones further increased the Scarlets’ lead to 12 points to 5.
Against the run of play, Ashton made up for his earlier error by slicing through the Scarlets’ defence to score Saracens’ second try under the posts making the conversion attempt an easy one as Farrell squared the match at 12 points all.
It wasn’t long before the Scarlets took the lead once more, with the forwards gaining the hard yards to put Scott Williams in space as he sailed over the whitewash unopposed before touching down under the posts. Dan Jones maintained his 100% kicking record as the Scarlets’ lead increased to 19 points to 12.
It was obvious that the Champions were rattles as more and more errors crept into their game, whilst in defence the Scarlets remained solid.
Throughout the whole match, the Scarlets totally dominated resulting in the visitors relying on scraps. However, they are not European Champions and one of the strongest teams if they didn’t have the ability to use those scraps to score points and keep themselves in games.
It was nail-biting stuff as the game reached the final 10 minutes. The home team came close to scoring try number 2 but were unable to penetrate the solid Saracens defensive wall.
Unfortunately, the wind played a factor as Dan Jones attempted a Drop Goal in an attempt to seal the victory during a period when the Scarlets needed to
keep a calm head and play down the clock.
Farrell added another penalty to keep the visitors in touch 10 points to 15.
As yet another high tackle offered a penalty attempt for Dan Jones, Saracens can count themselves as very fortunate that thus far, the game has yet to see its first yellow card as they could have easily been facing at least their 5th yellow. Jones was again successful with his attempt to increase the Scarlets’ lead to 22 points to 15.
With the minutes ticking towards full time, Saracens were camped in the Scarlets’ 22, intent on snatching at the very least a draw from this fixture. However, a slap from replacement Will Skelton on James Davies saw the first yellow card of the match and offered the home team the opportunity to take advantage of their extra man as they defended for their victory.
As the clock reached the 80-minute mark, the Scarlets held on but cruelly, with over 2 minutes of extra time played, they were unable to get the ball off the parc and a mis-tackle saw Ashton apparently cross the try line, though it did look as though he had grounded the ball short. Farrell added the conversion to end the game at 22 points all, though to every Scarlet player and support, despite the draw, after the performance of the players, it felt very much like a loss.
As a game of rugby, it was one of the best performances from the Scarlets for many a season and in as much as the Scarlets will be extremely disappointed with the draw, Saracens will be counting themselves very fortunate to sneak the draw that broke the Scarlets’ hearts.
Next Saturday the Scarlets travel to Sale for the final game of this season’s Champions’ Cup group stages, kick off is at 3.15 pm
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