SCAR­LETS HOME RUN COMES TO ABRUPT END AS BLUES RUN RIOT

Wales On Sunday - - SPORT - ANDY HOW­ELL Rugby cor­re­spon­dent andy.how­[email protected]­line.co.uk

GARETH An­scombe piled up 19 points as Cardiff Blues ended the Scar­lets’ 27-month un­beaten home record in the Guin­ness PRO14 with a bumper vic­tory in Llanelli.

The Wales out­side-half got their fi­nal touch­down, con­verted all four tries and put over two penal­ties as their su­pe­rior fin­ish­ing proved the dif­fer­ence in front of a crowd of 10,622 at Parc y Scar­lets.

Cen­tre Rey Lee-Lo crossed twice with scrum-half Lloyd Wil­liams hav­ing opened the scor­ing for them.

Scar­lets’ try came from full-back Johnny McNi­choll but their backs failed to cap­i­talise on the glut of pos­ses­sion and ter­ri­tory pro­vided by their pack.

And their heads dropped be- fore the end as their los­ing streak in all com­pe­ti­tions ex­tended to five matches. They have dropped from third to fourth be­hind Benet­ton in Con­fer­ence B of the PRO14 with Ed­in­burgh join­ing Wayne Pi­vac’s side on 30 points.

Blues’ suc­cess en­abled them to move level with the third-placed Os­preys on points in Con­fer­ence A.

The top three fin­ish­ers in each pool will qual­ify for the end of sea­son ti­tle play-offs.

It was the Scar­lets first home de­feat in the PRO14 since los­ing to Mun­ster in Septem­ber 2016.

They suf­fered a pre-match blow when full-back Leigh Half­penny was a late with­drawal af­ter suf­fer­ing from headaches. He had been due to make his come­back af­ter seven weeks out with the con­cus­sion he suf­fered dur­ing a con­tro­ver­sial chal­lenge from Samu Kerevi in Wales’ win over Aus­tralia on Novem­ber 10.

New Zealan­der McNi­choll switched to full-back with Aus­tralian Paul Asquith com­ing in at left-wing.

Cen­tre Hadleigh Parkes con­tin­ued out of po­si­tion at out­side-half af­ter be­ing pre­ferred to Rhys Patchell and Dan Jones against the Os­preys last week­end.

The Blues took the lead in the ninth minute with a mon­ster penalty from the in-form An­scombe.

And it got bet­ter a minute later af­ter out­stand­ing blind­side flanker Josh Turn­bull won a turnover against his for­mer team.

Lee-Lo beat op­po­site num­ber Jonathan Davies and linked with Wil­liams and Blaine Scully.

Right-wing Scully was tack­led by Davies, who had chased back, be­fore pass­ing in­side to Wales in­ter­na­tional Wil­liams for the try.

Tele­vi­sion match of­fi­cial Ian Davies deemed Scully’s right leg was in the air and there­fore still in play be­fore he had found the scrum-half.

An­scombe nailed the con­ver­sion from wide out to give them a healthy 10-point ad­van­tage.

Points were com­ing thick and fast with the Scar­lets hit­ting back al­most im­me­di­ately af­ter the ball went loose fol­low­ing a box-kick by Wil­liams.

It found its way into the hands of Will Boyde and the No.8 put NcNi­choll into the clear and over for an un­con­verted try with a pass out of the back door.

The Scar­lets ham­mered away at the Blues try-line, go­ing through 21 phases be­fore Asquith put in a chip for Tom Pry­die.

But the right-wing, who was the youngest Wales in­ter­na­tional in history when he was capped at 18 by War­ren Gatland against Italy in the 2010 Six Na­tions, couldn’t reach the ball be­fore it bounced out of play.

The ex­per­i­ment of play­ing Parkes at out­side-half had to be shelved in the 36th minute be­cause of an in­jury to Kieron Fono­tia.

The New Zealan­der in­jured his right el­bow and was forced off min­utes later with Parkes mov­ing to his reg­u­lar po­si­tion of cen­tre and Dan Jones com­ing on as play-maker.

Jones was No.10 for the Wales Un­der-20 team which raced to a ju­nior Six Na­tions Grand Slam two years ago but has been out of favour with coach Pi­vac de­spite some ac­com­plished per­for­mances over the last two sea­sons for the Scar­lets.

The Blues held on to their five­point lead un­til the end of a scrappy but en­ter­tain­ing first half.

Scar­lets flanker James Davies, who has missed the bulk of this sea­son with a knee in­jury, didn’t reap­pear for the sec­ond half.

Promis­ing young­ster Dan Davis, who shone Wales Un­der-20 last sea­son, took his place but the Blues were big­ger and stronger at the break­down.

Pry­die failed to take a gilt-edged chance fol­low­ing a long pass and skip­per Ken Owens twice turned down kick­able penal­ties, which was a sur­prise con­sid­er­ing how close they were on the score­board at the time and the dif­fi­cul­ties they were hav­ing in break­ing down the op­po­si­tion de­fence.

And the Blues saw them off with cen­tre Wil­lis Hala­holo fend­ing off a flail­ing Jones af­ter get­ting on the out­side of him from a scrum.

Hala­holo straight­ened and ex­pertly drew McNi­choll be­fore find­ing Lee-Lo on his out­side.

The Samoa star had too much pace for the chas­ing Jonathan Davies and slid over for An­scombe to con­vert to give the Blues a 12-point buf­fer with 18 min­utes re­main­ing.

It was game over with Lee-Lo and An­scombe fin­ish­ing the job with in­ter­cep­tion tries.

Johnny McNi­choll of Scar­lets looks de­jected at the death

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