A huge contingent made their way over the Severn Bridge as Bath became a sea of red ahead of the crunch fifth round match of this season’s European Champions Cup.
Despite only picking up two losing bonus points in the opening rounds, the Scarlets managed to keep their knock-out stage hope alive as they earned back-to-back victories against Benetton Rugby to keep them right in the mix.
Disappointingly, the Scarlets were forced to make two late changes to the original team announcement, with both Leigh Halfpenny and Johnny McNicholl forced to withdraw.
It was all defence for the Scarlets in the opening minutes of the game as they weathered a wave of attack from Bath following a break from former Scarlet Rhys Priestland. This was to be Priestland’s last input into the game, however, as he limped off after less than 5 minutes played with what looked like a hamstring injury.
Outside Half, Dan Jones initially struggled with his kicking game, offering Anthony Watson an opportunity to counter-attack until they were deemed off-side at the breakdown to give the visitors a penalty.
It was the Scarlets that scored the first try of the evening, scored in typical Scarlets fashion, with Centres Scott Williams and Hadleigh Parkes combining well to make the hard yards before Paul Asquith released Tadhg Beirne who crossed for the opening try, side-stepping Anthony Watson on his way to the line!
Dan Jones added the simple conversion to give the visitors an early 0 points to 7 lead as ‘Sosban Fach’ filled The Rec.
Strong running from Banahan took Bath into the Scarlets’ 22, and desperate defending from the Scarlets resulted in John Barclay killing the ball, and being awarded a yellow card for his professional foul.
Rhys Priestland’s replacement, Freddie Burns slotted over the simple penalty to put the home side on the scoreboard… 3 points to 7, though Barclay had saved a certain try that would have brought the scores level.
A break from Aaron Shingler saw the Scarlets play in typical Scarlets fashion, moving the ball among both forwards and backs with fluidity before a superb pass from Hadleigh Parkes found Paul Asquith who dived over in the corner. Dan Jones was just wide with his conversion attempt from the touch line as the Scarlets extended their lead to 3 points to 12.
Following a quiet couple of weeks after winning his first Welsh Cap against South Africa, Hadleigh Parkes sealed his return to form by scoring Scarlets’ third try. A break from Gareth Davies saw him throw a perfectly-timed pass for Parkes to cross under the sticks. Dan Jones added the extras as the Scarlets’ lead increased to 3 points to 19.
A further break from Scott Williams saw the Centre race into the Bath 22 before Banahan deliberately knocked the ball on to save an almost certain try as Paul Asquith was clear to cross in the corner. Referee Jerome Garces consulted the TMO but decided that a knock-on would suffice, despite the Scarlets’ calls for a penalty try.
The immense power from the Scarlets forwards at the set piece saw the visitors awarded a penalty on the stroke of half time as Bath collapsed the scrum. A simple kick from Jones extended the lead to 3 points to 22 at half time.
The dominance of the Scarlets’ scrum offered an early penalty attempt for Dan Jones at the start of the second half, but rather than kicking for the posts, they opted to kick for the corner. Quick thinking from Asquith, who put in a chip over Watson saw Cook take the ball back over his own line to give the Scarlets a scrum.
The Scarlets kept the ball tight amongst the forwards as the quest for the bonus point try continued. Recycling the ball well, the Bath defence was stretched as the Scarlets came within inches of crossing the whitewash before a perfect grubber kick from Rhys Patchell found Scott Williams who crossed in the corner. Dan Jones again added the extras to give the Scarlets 3 points to 29 lead.
Acrobatic finishing from Banahan finally put the home team on the try scoring sheet, despite a try-saving tackle attempt from Gareth Davies as he somehow managed to ground the ball before being bundled into touch. Freddie Burns added the extras to narrow the Scarlets’ lead to 10 points to 29.
Another huge performance at the scrum offered Jones a penalty attempt to put the Scarlets 3 converted tries ahead with just 10 minutes remaining. His kick put the Scarlets ahead by 10 points to 32.
As the game reached the final minutes, Bath put together some attacking phases with Joseph finding Aled Brew who was brought down just short of the line, but he managed to get the ball away to Mercer who squeezed in for Bath’s second try. Burns again added the extras to bring the home side up to 17 points to 32.
As the game drew to a close Dan Jones was offered another penalty attempt to hammer a final nail in Bath’s coffin. His superb effort from 45 metres out was the perfect ending to a game where the Scarlets dominated from the start to such an extent that pundit, Austin Healey, asked whether the whole team could be awarded man of the match, but decided in the end that the plaudit must go to the opening try-scorer, Tadhg Beirne.
Final Score – Bath 17 – Scarlets 35
This victory puts the Scarlets on top of their European Pool, with the game between Toulon and Benetton yet to be played. With their European dreams very much still in their hands, next Saturday will be a huge occasion in Parc y Scarlets where they host Toulon. A win next week would see them qualify for the quarter finals….and then…. who knows?
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