BACK WITH A BANG
Halfpenny enjoys his return to Welsh rugby as Scarlets give Kings a right royal hammering!
IT was a tale of two debuts at Parc y Scarlets, a try-scoring one for Leigh Halfpenny and a baptism of fire for the South African new boys.
It was always going to be a tough ask for the men from Port Elizabeth, having lost a chunk of their Super Rugby squad and facing an ultraconfident Scarlets on their own turf in their face competitive game since claiming the Guinness PRO12 title.
And so it proved in what turned out to be a one-sided romp in Llanelli.
The Kings had asked plenty of questions of the champions in the opening half, but tired badly in the second period, conceding 42 unanswered points to the rampant hosts after the break.
As for Halfpenny, it wasn’t a spectacular first outing by any means.
But there was a try and four out of five kicks at goal before he made way to a warm ovation just before the hour mark.
The Scarlets maintained their freescoring form of last term with eight tries in front of a crowd of 9,108, with man-of-the-match Johnny McNicholl leading the way with a brace.Flanker James Davies was also dominant at the breakdown, ensuring the Scarlets enjoyed a feast of ball throughout.
The Kings had been expected to be the weaker of the two South African newcomers, a squad decimated since they saw the door shut on them by Super Rugby chiefs.
They included just two players in their starting line-up who had taken the field against the Cheetahs in their last outing, while, in contrast, the Scarlets fielded 12 of their title-winning side that savoured glory in Dublin in May.
And while head coach Wayne Pivac had issued plenty of warnings against complacency in the run-up to the game, there was a distinct lack of intensity in the opening exchanges.
It almost looked too comfortable for the home side as the Scarlets went through the motions with ball in hand with a training-run feel to proceedings.
The scoreboard was up and running on nine minutes when scrumhalf Gareth Davies sniped around the blind, leading to the outstanding McNicholl diving over in the corner.
However, the Kings were in mood to bow the knee and responded with a cleverly-crafted try of their own — wing Yaw Penxe beating Halfpenny to the bouncing ball after a clever chip through from fly-half Kurt Coleman.
The Scarlets enjoyed plenty of possession and territory, but were struggling to find a clinical edge.
It needed a slick cut-out pass from Rhys Patchell to eventually break the Kings’ resistance with Halfpenny the beneficiary for his first try in Scarlets colours.
But the Kings refused to be shaken off.
Coleman and Patchell swapped penalties and it needed some determined last-ditch defence from Hadleigh Parkes to deny powerful wing Sibusiso Sithole at the end of the half.
Probably stung by a few harsh words at half-time, the Scarlets were far more like the end-of-term 2017 vintage after the interval.
Patchell crossed at the posts six minutes into the second half, then some superb handling from the for- wards paved the way for lock Jake Ball to charge over for a popular score. Replacement hooker Emyr Phillips finished off a line-out drive for the Scarlets’ fifth and with the Kings tiring badly in the final quarter, the tries flowed.
Further scores came for Parkes, McNicholl and last season’s top tryscorer Steff Evans as the Scarlets hit the ground running in style. SCARLETS: L Halfpenny (repl R
Jones 57); J McNicholl, H Parkes, S Williams (repl P Asquith 60), S Evans; R Patchell, G Davies; R Evans (repl D Evans 65), R Elias (repl E Phillips 57), S Lee (repl W Kruger 60), J Ball (repl D Bulbring 57), T Beirne (repl W Boyde 65), A Shingler, J Barclay (capt), James Davies
REPS: E Phillips, D Evans, W Kruger, D Bulbring, W Boyde, J Evans, R Jones, P Asquith
SOUTHERN KINGS: M Banda; Y Penxe, B Klaasen, L Vulindlu (repl J Nel 25), S Sithole; K Coleman (repl N Dukisa 71), R van Rooyen (repl G Masimla 57); S Ferreira (repl L Pupuma 59), M Willemse (capt; repl M Willemse 67), R de Klerk (repl E Swanepoel 59), J van Vuuren, D van Schalkwyk (repl B De Wee 65), K Majola (repl S Mdaka 65), A Ntsila, V Sekekete REFEREE: Frank Murphy (Ireland) ATTENDANCE: 9,108
Leigh Halfpenny fires over a shot at goal during Scarlets’ emphatic Pro14 win over the Southern Kings at Parcy-y-Scarlets yesterday PICTURE: Huw Evans Agency
Leigh Halfpenny is congratulated as referee Frank Murphy awards his try
Victor Sekekete of the Southern Kings on the attack yesterday PICTURES: Huw Evans