SCARLETS POCKET A BONUS TO STAY IN THE HUNT
THE Scarlets claimed maximum points in a one-sided affair to keep their hopes of Champions Cup qualification very much alive.
When they lost at home to Edinburgh the previous weekend, it was all doom and gloom.
It looked as though they were going to miss out on a place in Europe’s top competition for the very first time.
But the way results developed last weekend, they now still have everything to play for.
It was Edinburgh’s 29-7 home defeat at the hands of Ulster on Friday night that really opened the door for Wayne Pivac’s men.
They then knew if they could secure bonus-point victories over Zebre and the Dragons in their last two regular season games they would have a good chance of finishing fourth and securing a Champions Cup play-off spot.
Well, they have got the first part of the job done, an Italian job as it happens.
They had to wait until the 72nd minute to nail the all-important fourth try, as No. 8 Uzair Cassiem powered over for his second.
With that secured, they crossed for two more in quick succession to round off a six-try rout.
If they can repeat the feat and claim the maximum against the Dragons on Judgement Day, they will be in with a real shout of a Euro play-off.
The only way Edinburgh could then deny them fourth spot would be to secure a bonus-point victory away to Glasgow later that evening.
And that looks a huge task as their opponents have plenty resting on the game themselves,
Glasgow know a win would see them finish above Munster at the top of Conference A, taking them straight through to a home semi-final in the PRO14 title play-offs.
While Edinburgh are currently a point ahead of the Scarlets in Conference B, the Welsh team have a much superior points difference.
They are currently 23 ahead of the Scots on that count and are likely to stay in front with a game against the lowly Dragons to come on Saturday week.
If the Scarlets and Edinburgh finish the season level on total points and wins, it will come down to points difference.
So the Scots would need to equal whatever the Scarlets do in terms of match points to stay ahead of them, which looks a real tall order.
As such, Pivac’s team have a golden opportunity of salvaging their season by reaching a Champions Cup play-off.
If they get there, they will be away to whoever comes out on top in the winner-takes-all Judgement Day clash between the Ospreys and Cardiff Blues.
The fourth-placed side with most points in the regular season gets home advantage and that is bound to be one of the two Welsh sides in Conference A.
So we could be heading to one almighty conclusion to the season in the shape of an all-Welsh play-off to decide our one represenative in the Champions Cup.
The Scarlets did their bit to keep that possibility alive by romping to victory over Zebre and provide the perfect home send-off for their departing coaches and players.
It was confirmed before kick-off that defence coach Byron Hayward would be leaving at the end of the season.
And he is now expected to join fellow Scarlets coaches Wayne Pivac and Stephen Jones in the Wales setup after the 2019 World Cup.
There were presentations to all three men after Saturday’s game, with farewells also being said to released players Will Boyde, David Bulbring, Tom Price and Declan Smith.
The Scarlets led 14-0 at the break thanks to tries from Cassiem and centre Hadleigh Parkes, with their dominant scrum giving them a mighty platform.
Then man of the match Johnny McNicholl dived in acrobatically for the third on the hour ahead of Cassiem’s clincher and late long range scores from Keiran Hardy and Ioan Nicholas.
Wales centre Hadleigh Parkes runs in to score a try for the Scarlets PICTURES: Huw Evans
Uzair Cassiem beats Leonard Krumov to score.