GRIT AND GUILE AS BAT­TLING SCAR­LETS SHOW THEY ARE NO ONE-TRICK PONIES

Llanelli Star - - Guinness Pro14 - ROB LLOYD Rugby correspond­ent [email protected]­line.co.uk

IT was a match that lived up to the billing, a phys­i­cal, un­re­lent­ing clash be­tween two Guin­ness PRO14 heavy­weights. In the end it came down to the fi­nal nail-bit­ing sec­onds, with the Scar­lets, through some gritty break­down work from Leigh Half­penny of all peo­ple, win­ning a cru­cial penalty in their own 22 to seal their first vic­tory of the cam­paign.

Wayne Pi­vac’s side had burst out of the blocks, claim­ing an early try through skip­per Ken Owens, but scores from wings Fer­gus McFad­den and James Lowe put the de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons 14-10 ahead at the break.

In a see-saw­ing sec­ond half, the Scar­lets took con­trol thanks to the boot of Half­penny and a try from scrum-half Gareth Davies, but a 75th-minute try from Rhys Rud­dock set up a thrilling fi­nale.

Rugby writer Rob Lloyd as­sesses the ma­jor talk­ing points to emerge from the 23-21 tri­umph.

GRIT AS WELL AS BEAUTY

The West Walians have been hailed as the com­pe­ti­tion’s great en­ter­tain­ers, but this was a game where they had to roll up their sleeves and stand toe to toe with the Euro­pean cham­pi­ons.

The Ir­ish side bul­lied the Scar­lets into sub­mis­sion in a one-sided Cham­pi­ons Cup semi-fi­nal in Dublin last April, de­liv­er­ing a re­lent­less for­ward dis­play that was up there with Test-match in­ten­sity.

But apart from one thun­der­ous first-half drive, which set up McFad­den’s try, a Le­in­ster eight con­tain­ing five cur­rent Ire­land in­ter­na­tional for­wards were un­able to dom­i­nate.

There was lit­tle to choose at scrum time, while the home side gave the vis­i­tors a taste of their own medicine with a pow­er­ful sec­ond-half line-out surge of their own.

For sure, there will be plenty of sore bod­ies around Parc y Scar­lets this week be­cause this was rugby in

the raw — and the Scar­lets weren’t found want­ing.

“We had time in the off-sea­son to re­flect and look at where we had to im­prove against Le­in­ster, and get­ting them in round two was about show­ing how much work we have done, how much work we need to do and whether we had closed the gap,” said Pi­vac in his post-match press con­fer­ence.

“The re­sult, first and fore­most, is very pleas­ing, es­pe­cially af­ter let­ting one slip in the clos­ing stages last week (against Ul­ster).

“When you play against Le­in­ster you can’t get away from the fact that it is go­ing to be a phys­i­cal en­counter and you need to front up.

“You are go­ing to end up with bod­ies the way they were tonight, but it is just the by-prod­uct of try­ing to be suc­cess­ful.”

MORE IN­JURY CON­CERNS

Un­for­tu­nately for the Scar­lets the phys­i­cal bat­tle pro­duced yet more ca­su­al­ties.

In the early weeks of the sea­son Pi­vac has spent long pe­ri­ods of his weekly press con­fer­ences up­dat­ing the me­dia on in­juries, and he is likely to be do­ing the same to­mor­row morn­ing.

Wales prop Rob Evans (shoul­der/ pec­toral mus­cle) and No. 8 Josh Macleod (shoul­der) ap­pear to be the big­gest con­cerns and both will un­dergo scans to de­ter­mine the full ex­tent of their in­juries.

Wing Johnny McNi­choll left the field early af­ter tak­ing a blow to the neck. “He was short­ened up by a cou­ple of inches, he is pretty sore, but hope­fully it is not too se­ri­ous,” said Pi­vac af­ter­wards.

There was also the sight of Jake Ball com­ing off af­ter com­plain­ing of a nig­gle in his Achilles.

The Wales sec­ond row, in his first com­pet­i­tive out­ing since dis­lo­cat­ing his shoul­der play­ing for his coun­try last Novem­ber, put in a huge shift and the Scar­lets will hope the is­sue doesn’t keep him on the side­lines for any length of time.

“Jake was start­ing to feel his Achilles area so it was best to get him off,” re­vealed Pi­vac.

“He was walk­ing around af­ter­wards with ice on it so that was a pre­cau­tion. Hope­fully he won’t be too bad.

“We wanted some big ball car­ries in the mid­dle of the park and he cer­tainly gave us that.”

A REAL CAP­TAIN’S EF­FORT

There was a num­ber of Scar­lets con­tenders for the man-of-the-match ac­co­lade, but in the end, Ken Owens got the nod from his for­mer Test cap­tain Sam War­bur­ton, who was part of the Premier Sports com­men­tary team at Parc y Scar­lets.

Pi­vac paid trib­ute to a “cap­tain’s knock” from his hooker, who was at the heart of an abra­sive for­ward ef­fort from the West Walians.

He scored the game’s first try, car­ried with venom and con­trib­uted to a re­silient de­fen­sive ef­fort.

“He ran him­self to a stand­still in the end,” said the Scar­lets coach.

FORTRESS LLANELLI

You have to turn the clock back more than two years, to Septem­ber 3, 2016, against Mun­ster on the open­ing week­end of their ti­tle-win­ning cam­paign, for the last time the Scar­lets lost at home in the Guin­ness PRO14.

It is now 22 games and count­ing since that 23-13 de­feat.

Le­in­ster came close last sea­son – it needed a late Dan Jones penalty to snatch a draw – but sig­nif­i­cantly, the best side in Europe haven’t won in Llanelli since 2013.

If the Scar­lets are go­ing to be con­tenders again in 2018-19, and many ex­pect Pi­vac’s side to be in the play­off mix, that home record is go­ing to count for a lot.

STEFF EVANS MYS­TERY SOLVED

Pi­vac cleared up the rea­son for Wales wing Steff Evans play­ing in the Celtic Cup com­pe­ti­tion for the A team in­stead of turn­ing out against the Euro­pean cham­pi­ons at Parc y Scar­lets.

It was a big sur­prise to see the 24-year-old de­moted to the sec­ond string, but the Scar­lets coach in­sisted that was al­ways meant to hap­pen.

“The plan with Steff was not to play him in the first cou­ple of rounds. He played last week against Ul­ster be­cause of in­juries to Johnny McNi­choll and Leigh Half­penny,” said Pi­vac.

“He has only had three weeks of train­ing since his knee in­jury (on Wales’s sum­mer tour) so he is nowhere near his full match fit­ness and as sharp as he needs to be.

“Un­for­tu­nately for Steff he had to play (against Ul­ster), but when those play­ers were avail­able he went back to the pro­gramme of get­ting him­self where he needs to be and that in­cludes a cou­ple of games for the A’s.

“He hasn’t been dropped from the squad, he is just on track for round three, four, five, some­where around there.”

Gareth Davies holds off Rhys Rud­dock and Ross Byrne.

Hadleigh Parkes gets clear.

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