Llanelli Star - - Heineken Champions Cup -

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.

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