Scarlets European Hopes Dashed As Ulster Secure Victory

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The Pro14 took a break this week as it was back to Champions Cup action in Parc y Scarlets with Ulster making the return journey for the second time in a matter of weeks.
With just a single bonus point so far in this season’s campaign, the Scarlets found themselves in a similar position to last year following a disappointing start with two losses. A win was paramount if the region was to have any hope of progressing to the knock-out stages, though the route is on paper a more difficult one than last season.
The Scarlets took an early lead with an easy penalty attempt from Rhys Patchell after just two minutes play. Despite the swirling wind, Patchell’s kick sailed between the posts to give the hosts a 3 points to 0 advantage.
John Cooney evened things up minutes later following a threatening period of attacking rugby in the Scarlets 22. His successful kick brought the scores to 3 points all.
Defence Coach, Byron Hayward would not have been happy with the run up to the first try of the evening. Following a break in midfield, the visitors found it far too easy to gain the hard yards before releasing Jacob Stockdale who crossed in the corner. Cooney’s conversion attempt looked like it was going to sail through the upright, however the wind caught it at the last minute and he was unable to add the extras as the visitors took the lead by 3 points to 8.
Cooney was offered a further attempt to increase the visitor’s lead as the Scarlets were pinged for off-side, however his kick sailed in the direction of the corner flag.
Ulster were very fortunate to still have a full XV on the pitch following a dangerous no-arms high tackle on Lewis Rawlins that saw him replaced by Steve Cummins, however referee, Alexandre Ruiz deemed that a penalty would suffice.
Rather than attempt the kick, Patchell kicked for the corner. An initial break from Gareth Davies inched the team closer to the try line before Steff Evans was on hand to finish the move. Rhys Patchell added the extras to put the hosts back ahead by 10 points to 8.
Another well worked try from Ulster that saw Henry Speight cross in the corner to put the visitors back ahead as again the Scarlets’ discipline seemed to let them down. Despite, Cooney missing the conversion from wide out Ulster were back ahead by 10 points to 13.
A break from Jacob Stockdale saw the speedster embark on a race to the try line, however a superb tackle from Rhys Patchell saw him bundled in touch. An interception from Gareth Davies saw the hosts back in the Ulster 22 as they worked through the phases in an attempt to get a score right at the end of the half, however Ulster’s defence proved too strong and they were unable to run in for the end of the first half in the lead as the Scarlets trailed by 10 points to 13 at the break.
The second half continued in very much the same vein as the first as the Scarlets’ defence was tested. With Ulster deep in the Scarlets’ 22, a great angle from Will Addison saw the Centre cross for the visitor’s third try. Cooney added the extras to put Ulster ahead by 10 points to 20.
The Scarlets finally found themselves in a good attacking position, with a scrum deep in the Ulster 22, however another silly penalty and Ulster were able to relieve the pressure.
A dummy pass from Johnny McNicholl released Steff Evans who raced over for his brace. Patchell added the simple conversion from just in front of the posts and suddenly the Scarlets were back in it as they had cut the deficit to 17 points to 20 with just over 20 minutes remaining.
Unfortunately, just when it seemed the Scarlets were building up some momentum, Ulster were back in the home side’s 22, with number 8, Marcell Coetzee crashing over from close range to give Ulster the try bonus point for scoring four tries. Cooney was again wide with his conversion attempt as again the visitors led by two scores – 17 points to 25.
As the clock ticked down, the Scarlets threw everything they could at the Ulstermen with Jonathan Davies in particular managing to find the odd gap, however, for the most part, the hosts seemed unable to find any way to penetrate the defensive wall of white jerseys.
It looks likely that Steff Evans was going to get his hat trick and make the last five minutes of the match very interesting, however he was bundled into touch inches short of the line.
With less than three minutes remaining, Ulster were penalised at the line-out as the throw-in wasn’t straight, offering the Scarlets an attacking scrum, however they appeared to make life very difficult for themselves as handling errors crept into the game and time was running out fast.
With just a minute remaining, Dan Davis was able roll his way over the try line for a try that could snatch victory for the Scarlets in a dramatic fashion. Dan Jones didn’t wait around too long for his conversion attempt that brought the hosts back to within a point of the Ulstermen, 24 points to 25.
The Scarlets gave their all way after the clock had turned red as they attempted to even get a penalty in a kickable position that would have won the game, however, they finally conceded a penalty and despite securing a losing bonus, the European dream for this season is surely over.
Speaking after the game, Wayne Pivac praised his players for their effort, stating that is was an improvement on last week’s performance, however, the key word was accuracy both in attack and defence.
The Scarlets face the away fixture next week with Pivac insisting that they will go out to Belfast wanting to win…

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