PIVAC CAN HAVE FEW COMPLAINTS AT EXIT
LFATTHE Scarlets couldn’t have any real grumbles as they crashed out of Europe’s Champions Cup with a brave but loose display against Ulster in Llanelli.
Last season’s semi-finalists have now lost their three matches in Pool Four, having already gone down to Racing 92 and Leicester Tigers, to exit at the halfway point of the group stage.
Despite the attacking thrust of Jonathan Davies in the second half they weren’t quite good enough against opponents who shaded it.
And it meant Ulster’s backs coach Dwayne Peel getting one over his counterpart and business partner Stephen Jones, who played alongside him at half-back for the Scarlets, Wales and the Lions.
Steff Evans’s second try gave the Scarlets hope of snatching the spoils but a bonus-point score from former South Africa flanker Marcell Coetzee was just enough to see them off despite a late strike from substitute Dan Davis.
The Scarlets had entered the mustwin fixture bottom of their pool, but there wasn’t to be any repeat of the heroics of last season when they won their final four matches after being in a similar predicament to reach the knockout rounds.
Flanker James Davies and prop Samson Lee returned following lengthy absences but fellow Wales international Hadleigh Parkes was confined to the substitutes’ bench, with Kieron Fonotia being preferred at centre alongside Jonathan Davies.
The Scarlets capitalised after Ulster dropped the ball from the kick-off, going through the phases to win a penalty with just 57 seconds on the clock.
Outside-half Rhys Patchell’s kick squeezed inside an upright in the strong wind to take the lead, but Ulster came straight back for scrumhalf John Cooney to level matters.
It got better for Ulster when centre Will Addison made an arcing break outside Jonathan Davies in midfield and found Six Nations player of the year Jacob Stockdale with an inchperfect pass.
The winger, who last month scored the decisive touchdown during Ireland’s historic first victory over New Zealand on Irish soil, is the man with the midas touch.
Like it did for Wales’s Alex Cuthbert in 2013 and 2014, everything seems to turn to gold and it was the case again.
He brushed off covering Scarlets wing Evans’s flimsy attempt to stop him and also left Wales scrum-half Gareth Davies behind for a blistering try.
Cooney missed the conversion and a penalty, while a clash of heads between Scarlets lock Lewis Rawlins and Sean Reidy — the Ulster flanker had gone too high and was penalised — saw both men depart.
Gareth Davies and Evans atoned for their earlier errors, with the former sniping around the fringes of a breakdown before the latter finished for Patchell to convert to give the Scarlets the lead for a second time.
However, a brisk attack from Ulster culminated in their Australia winger Henry Speight scoring an unconverted try on the overlap to put them back in front ahead at 13-10.
They increased it to 10 points nine minutes into the second half, Addison running a brilliant angle on to Cooney’s pass to score after spotting a gap near a ruck.
Cooney converted but the Scarlets responded with Jonathan Davies making two bursts as they made a desperate effort to stay in contention for a place at the knockout stage.
Evans got his second try, Patchell converting, following a slick offload from full-back Johnny McNicholl to reduce the arrears to three points.
But Coetzee was on the end of another impressive attack from Ulster. Cooney was wide with the conversion, with his misses almost proving costly after the home side’s late score.
James Davies is tackled by Will Addison during the Champions Cup match at Parc y Scarlets. (Inset) Steff Evans scores one of his two tries.