SCARLETS HOME RUN COMES TO ABRUPT END AS BLUES RUN RIOT
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