Pivac bemoans errors as Scarlets are pipped by penalty try
Scarlets, Champions Cup semi-finalists last season, started their European campaign with a last-gasp defeat to Racing 92. In truth, this was a game few will remember in the long run such was the poor nature of the encounter, but that will not bother the men from Paris one bit.
That the Top 14 outfit came out on top was down to their forwards, who earned a penalty try to seal it at the death. Referee Matthew Carley ran under the posts after Gareth Davies dragged down a Racing driving maul and sin-binned the Wales scrum-half as a result.
It was the crucial moment and left Scarlets – who scored tries through Gareth Davies and Johnny McNicholl – heartbroken. “I haven’t seen the penalty try,” said coach Wayne Pivac. “We were disappointed to go into half-time 7-3 down because we conceded right on the whistle. We made a lot of errors in the first 20 to 30 minutes. We know we have to be better and Leicester away next Friday night is a good opportunity for us to bounce back.”
Leigh Halfpenny gave the hosts an early 3-0 lead, but rookie fly-half Angus O’Brien, on his first Scarlets start, had a shocking opening quarter. He put the kick-off out on the full, dropped a high ball, saw his clearance attempt charged down and then spilt a pass.
Despite giving away a string of penalties, Racing went to the break in front with a try almost on the whistle. It came out of nothing, scrum-half Xavier Chauveau selling Samson Lee a dummy and popping the ball up for Baptiste Chouzenoux, who cantered to the line. Finn Russell converted.
The fact the usually reliable Hadleigh Parkes was guilty of some poor tactical kicking summed up an awful first 40 minutes. Pivac replaced O’Brien and Jake Ball, who had both suffered knocks, for the second period. Dan Jones was the man to come on at 10, but the drizzle only served to make the paucity of the game even worse.
It was ironic, then, that two quick home tries arrived within five minutes. First, the Scarlets forwards did their job from a scrum and Gareth Davies picked up and went blind to score in the corner. Then a grubber kick from Jonathan Davies found McNicholl in space and the winger cleverly slid over. Halfpenny, crucially, missed with both conversion attempts.
It left Racing to chase the game, but their pack finally ground the hosts down. From a line-out surge, Carley decided the Scarlets were on the wrong side of the law and the automatic seven points ruined Pivac’s evening.
Racing’s Simon Zebo said: “The game turned into a bit of a kick-fest, but we got the luck and it’s not often Leigh misses two kicks. Momentum is a funny thing and this is a great result for us to start the tournament.”
Scores 3-0 Halfpenny pen; 3-5 Chouzenoux try; 3-7 Russell con; 8-7 G Davies try; 13-7 J McNicholl try; 13-14 Penalty try. Scarlets L Halfpenny; J McNicholl (P Asquith 76), J Davies, H Parkes, S Evans; A O’Brien (D Jones 40), G Davies; W Jones (R Evans 54), K Owens (capt) (R Elias 67), S Lee (W Kruger 54), J Ball (T Price 40), D Bulbring, E Kennedy (J Macleod 54), W Boyde, B Thomson. Replacement S Hidalgo-Clyne. Racing 92 B Volavola; J Rokocoko (Vakatawa 55), O Klemenczak, H Chavancy (capt), S Zebo; F Russell, X Chauveau (T Iribaren 51); G Gogichashvili (E Ben Arous 51) (G Gogichashvili 55), C Chat (T Baubigny 60), E Gomes Sa (CJohnston 51), D Ryan, L Nakarawa (D Bird 60), W Lauret, B Chouzenoux, A Classen. Replacements B Palu, L Lagarde. Referee Simon Mills (RFU).
Up and over: Racing’s Henry Chavancy is tackled by Angus O’Brien