Much-needed victory a tonic for Pivac following a dismal run of results
THE Scarlets started 2019 with a much-needed win as they defeated Dragons in a hard-fought win at Parc y Scarlets.
The Dragons were hoping for a first win in Llanelli since September 2007, but second-half tries from Ioan Nicholas and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne and the boot of Dan Jones secured the win in a match that was dominated by scrums and the inevitable resets.
The Dragons had James Benjamin to thank for their late try, with Josh Lewis kicking two penalties, but the Scarlets’ pack ensured this game was in doubt – even if the backline still isn’t firing on all cylinders.
The cohesion that summed up their cavalier rugby last season has been decimated by injuries and form – with basic errors from senior figures curtailing any chance for momentum in the opening 40.
It didn’t take long for the scrumfest to begin, with the Scarlets earning a penalty after two minutes.
After turning down several kickable penalties last week, there was no messing about this time, with Jones lining up a kick at goal.
The fly-half, restored to the starting XV after two weeks of the Hadleigh Parkes experiment, made no mistake with his opening effort, stroking it through the uprights.
It didn’t take long for the Dragons to have a scrum penalty of their own, but Lewis struck the outside of the post from distance with his opportunity from the tee five minutes later.
Scrums continued to dominate the early minutes, with Jones adding another three points after the Dragons infringed once more on 12 minutes.
It would take until the halfhour mark for the visitors to break their duck on the scoreboard, with Lewis kicking a long-range penalty after good work from Hallam Amos and Matthew Screech forced a not-releasing penalty from Scarlets full-back Johnny McNicholl.
As the first half drew to a close the Scarlets started to find some rhythm with their rugby, with a long series of patient phases resulting in Rob Evans having a try ruled out after the prop was held up by Zane Kirchner.
However, the Dragons had strayed offside earlier in the move, gifting Jones an easy three points from the tee.
Another moment of rare magic from the Scarlets inadvertently resulted in their next penalty.
A lovely flowing move down the left wing was cut short by a basic knock-on in midfield, but the Scarlets got the shove on at the scrum, resulting in Dan Suter being sin-binned and Jones adding his fourth penalty just before half-time.
Despite being down to 14 men, the Dragons started the secondhalf well.
A half-break from Hallam Amos drew a penalty from Ken Owens and Lewis made no mistake from out wide.
Much like the previous week, the Scarlets dominated all the statistic columns but did little with their dominance in the numbers.
A gilt-edged attacking line-out went astray metres from the Dragons’ try-line in the 54th minute and you wondered whether the Scarlets were going to let this one slip.
Just minutes later fans had their answer.
Another attacking line-out and finally some of the rugby the Parc y Scarlets faithful have come to expect.
Off the top of the line-out, Parkes took it at first reciever, with Jonathan Davies holding the defence with a decoy run. Parkes slipped a pass out the back to Jones, who fed Asquith through a gap.
The winger offloaded wonderfully to McNicholl, with the full-back applying the final pass to Nicholas.
It was a moment of magic in a game that had delivered little else but turgid scrums.
Even with their injuries and wretched form, this Scarlets team can still create moments like that when it all clicks.
The hosts closed out the final quarter with more dominance in the scrum, giving the Dragons little chance to cut back the deficit, with Hidalgo-Clyne forcing his way over from a quick tap after the Dragons yet again infringed at the scrum.
The Scarlets threatened to extend their lead late on, with McNicholl making a lovely break, but it was the Dragons who had the final say, with Benjamin crossing for a try following a flowing move in the final seconds of the encounter.
However, it was little more than a consolation.
SCARLETS: J McNicholl, I Nicholas, J Davies (S Hughes 74), H Parkes, P Asquith; D Jones ( T Prydie 74), K Hardy (S Hidalgo-Clyne 61); R Evans ( W Jones 60), R Elias (M Jones 61), S Lee ( W Kruger 48), J Helps, D Bulbring, E Kennedy ( T Phillips 58), D Davis, K Owens (captain).
DRAGONS: Z Kirchner (J Williams 55), A Warren, T Morgan, J Dixon, H Amos; J Lewis (J Tovey 68), T Knoyle (R Williams 48); A Jarvis (G Ellis 16), R Hibbard (E Dee 48), D Suter (C Coleman 48), B Nansen (J Davies 68), M Screech, C Hill (captain, C Coleman 42-48), A Wainwright, H Keddie (J Benjamin 68).
REFEREE: Craig Evans ( WRU).