Defeat for Scarlets, but Pivac’s men pick up a deserved bonus
THE Scarlets suffered only a second Guinness PRO14 defeat of the season, but picked up a deserved losing bonus point from a gritty effort in Bloemfontein.
Missing so many players on international duty, this test on the Highveld was always going to be a major one for Wayne Pivac’s depleted side, but they stuck to their task admirably.
A try for the returning James Davies in the first half kept them in the contest, as did a superb solo score from young wing Ioan Nicholas after the break.
Pivac, though, will be more than satisfied with a return of six points from their two matches on South African soil as attention turns to the resumption of European rugby next weekend.
Mike Phillips, out of retirement for this trip, also turned back the clock, lasting 65 minutes in an assured display at scrum-half.
The visitors had started brightly and were rewarded with an early penalty from Dan Jones.
The home response was swift with fly-half Fred Zeilinga landing the first of three long-range penalty shots.
His second arrived after the visitors’ scrum was unceremoniously shoved back on its heels, but home indiscipline allowed Jones to level matters on 16 minutes.
The Scarlets were indebted to a superb cover tackle from full-back Johnny McNicholl on scrum-half Shaun Venter to keep their line intact, but they were unable to stop centre William Small-Smith, who pounced on a kick through from former Scarlet Rynier Bernardo, who had intercepted and hoofed the ball upfield.
When Zeilinga added another penalty, again for a scrum offence, the alarm bells were ringing for the Scarlets.
But the Conference B leaders finished the half strongly, thanks to a beautifully-crafted score for openside Davies – back after 12 weeks recovering from shoulder surgery.
Leading 16-11 at the break, the Cheetahs continued to press with the Scarlets fortunate to escape on a couple of occasions.
But finally, the home side got their second try and it was a cracker.
McNicholl will be disappointed with his clearance, which landed straight into the arms of wing Craig Barry, and the speedster delivered it back in style from his own half, cutting through a disjointed defensive line to beat defender after defender to cross for a memorable solo try.
With the Scarlets clearly tiring, they desperately needed something to lift them and it came via 19-year-old Nicholas.
There appeared little on when the Pontyberem product received the ball wide out on halfway, but he cut inside, then turned on the afterburners to outstrip the home defence for his second try in as many games.
That score, converted by Jones, put the Scarlets back into losing bonus point territory, but a second Barry try with 11 minutes remaining sealed the win for the hosts.
However, a missed Cheetahs conversion and a late penalty for Tom Prydie saw the Scarlets leave with a deserved losing bonus point.
CHEETAHS: Tries: W. Small-Smith, C. Barry (2). Cons: F. Zeilinga (2). Pens: Zeilinga (3)
SCARLETS: Tries: J. Davies, I. Nicholas. Con: D. Jones. Pens: Jones (2), T. Prydie.
Ioan Nicholas dives over for a sparking try for the Scarlets in Bloemfontein