SCARLETS head coach Wayne Pivac, as an ex-policeman, orchestrated a crime of immense proportions at the Recreation Ground in Bath on Friday (Jan 12), when his Scarlet side won their must win European encounter 35-17.
Greeted onto the pitch by Greenhill School’s year 10 students as flag bearers, the game got off to an electric opening when Wales international centre Scott Williams caught the kick off and immediately referee Jerome Garcos awarded a penalty.
Outside half Dan Jones line kicks missed touch in the initial stages and his nervousness in such a titanic game was obvious.
Second row, Irish international Tadgh Beirne, rescued the situation by taking the line out ball against the throw, with the tackling strong from the visitors who were unable to recycle the ball as the game settled.
A blooded nose for skipper Ken Owen as ‘Bread of Heaven’ rang loudly from the Thatcher’s terrace, alongside sympathy for former outside half Rhys Priestland, whose birthday celebration were ruined when he limped off with a pulled hamstring to be replaced by Freddie Burns.
The Scarlets, now set and stable and got a nudge on at the scrum to establish the mantra for the evening with scrum half Gareth Davies darting clear on the blindside; England international full back Anthony Watson showed a clean pair of heels himself in response when running 40 metres from deep in his danger zone with flanker Sam Underhill in support.
A score was inevitable with such a frantic opening and it was the Scarlets who got the scoreboard rolling in a scintillating manner after nine minutes, starting from Beirne’s clawed line out ball.
Williams made the initial break, finding the support of second row David Bullring; centre Hadleigh Parkes took up the mantle finding Australian winger Paul Asquith, to flanker Aaron Shingler as they moved the ball with silky hands hitting gaps before it fell once again to the marauding Beirne.
From 15 metres out, he produced a Phil Bennett sidestep to screech in for a try converted by outside half Dan Jones.
Hymns and Arias was resounding into the cold air but the try was sweet, Neil Diamond’s appreciation of Caroline perhaps a better analogy for possibly the try of the season from the Land of my Fathers.
Freddie Burns pinged the Bath opening score after No. 8 John Barclay stopped their forward impetus and left the field for ten minutes on the French referee’s direction.
It was the Scarlets however who then dug deep, making ground and managing the game time superbly.
Shingler, running straight and with purpose made the gain line.
Full back Rhys Patchell and Parkes endeavour had the 13,822 crowd on the edge of their seats, which put Asquith in corner for a score despite being down to 14 men.
There was no stopping the red tide as five minutes later scrum half Davies rumbled 25 metres and found Welsh international Parkes on his shoulder and the centre crossed for his ninth try in 71 appearances, under duress, for a converted score and a 19-3 lead.
Williams was on fire, making another break to set up a scrum when the Scarlets were living in the moment; if he timed the pass his side were clear again for a score and perhaps on reflection needed just to consolidate their exuberance and make half time with their tail feathers unruffled may have suited.
A war of attrition with short passes and yardage in the tight areas wore down the clock and with it the Bath players and supporter’s hearts. The dominant scrum was verbalised loudly from prop Rob Evans and Jones slipped over the penalty for a half time lead of 22-3.
Bath as a city welcomes an array of nationalities but the atmosphere that trounced around the English fortress in January was full of ‘Heart and Soul’.
The Welsh contingent were delirious with their melody for a team of ‘Samson Lees’ eloquently reverberating around a city’s proclaimed architecture. Having been missing from the front row for many weeks before Christmas the prop was quite superb alongside fellow international Evans and his skipper, Ken Owens anchored between them.
Pivac has been coaching for 22 years since his first footstep on the rung in Northland, New Zealand but the victory in the back yard of the Aviva Premiership rugby giants was surely up with his best moments. Pro 12 champions last season having beaten Munster in Dublin to return a week later and rumble Leinster in the same venue included.
The ‘Rec’ was a cultural phenomenon, when Scarlets rugby once more came of age as they sat on the brink of a place in the European quarter final for the first time in 11 years. Bath rugby had lifted this trophy 20 years ago under the leadership of Scottish scrum half Andy Nicol’s but through their parade at half time, would have been in awe of the first half performance.
Music and Wales go hand in hand. Greenhill School, on tour at Backwell with the year ten students playing football, rugby and netball had the experience of a lifetime arranged through PE teacher Phil ‘Taffy’ Williams.
A school whose equally renowned musical talent under Samantha Hughes would have taken the Irish love ballad ‘Fields of Athenry’ to new heights given the opportunity.
Innate to the Irish famine of 1845 this anthem of the ‘underdog’ often resonating at Landsdowne Road or even Anfield a mercurial throw back to the task that sat before the visitors.
Top of Conference B the Scarlets took control early in the second half as they went in search of their bonus point try. The home eight were not match at the scrum set piece as Owens didn’t hesitate in choosing a rumble instead of taking a pot at goal.
Three times they drained the time and the Bath spirit, perilously close to crossing the try line through forward drives. Six minutes into the second half Patchell received the ball to deftly put a grubber kick through, allowing Williams to dab down wide out and Jones add the extras for 29-3.
The red tide were feeding the baying supporters cries for evangelical bread, where the ‘manna’ and intensity was unyielding. The team of Samson Lee lost their talisman on 55 minutes as his replacement Werner Kruger was rock sold as the choristers ‘Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau’ resonated loudly and proudly.
Bath coaching guru Todd Blackadder needed his side to develop a pattern of play as they refused a kick at goal in search of a try, which came when winger Matt Banahan caught Burns kick in the corner allowing the outside half to convert with an hour played.
‘Long John’ Welsh second row Luke Charteris, a man with a biochemist degree and a fluent French speaker to boot took the hand-me-down inspirational singing to his hear. Not one for ‘losing my religion’ the boiler house man’s efforts allowed him a well earned rest at the same time as opposite number Bullring.
Over 150 years of rugby history in North Somerset has placed foundations from which the home side ran with their head of steam. Pivac manipulated his cast list with the game and full points in the bag, with Aled Davies arriving at inside half. Tried and trusted combinations saw Owens and Beirne orchastrting the line forcing Watson to desperately run from deep as the ‘big shift’ put in from down West was recognised.
Owens, Hong Kong born Barclay, and Evans were done but still the tide wouldn’t subside, drawn to their supporters in the Dyson stand as Pivac’s decision to play a six to two forward split off the bench drew a scrum penalty.
Jones added the points for a 32-10 and a fourscore lead with 12 minutes to play. The defensive patterns were as impressive as any offensive effort, Patchell making a last ditch cover tackle on Zach Mercer with five minutes to play typifying the ‘hywl’.
Top of the ball line out and replacement Josh Macloed madeground and play was outside the danger zone with Jones clearance. Back came Bath and No. 8 Zach Mercer couldn’t be denied in the opposite corner for a converted try after a cutting run from winger Aled Brew, skipper Matt Garvey and second row Paul Grant.
Williams and Prydie responded to gain a penalty for offside with ‘Sospan Fach’ finishing proceedings fittingly, with Jones boot, edging the score to 35-17.
The Bath faithful, forlorn and remorseful took an early bath wondering what had happened.
LTC Mobility sponsored Furnace rugby club members summed it up amidst their exuberant acclaims.
Centre and club vice captain Scott Davies hoarsely crooned: “It’s the best away trip I’ve experienced. Our 1800 strong choir left nothing in the changing room and it was certainly a factor in lifting the squad.”
On Saturday (Jan 20) another blockbuster awaits, when Toulon visit Parc Y Scarlets and the home side need a minimum of a bonus point to progress into the knockout stages.
Davies smiling face finished the evening with: “Let this be the springboard to the next level. This could be the year we lift the Heineken trophy and the whole of Europe will stand up for the champions.”
Reds extend unbeaten run to nine matches
EXTENDING their unbeaten league and cup run to nine with this latest win, Llanelli Town are now level with current leaders, Cambrian & Clydach Vale, on 14 points with a just a better solitary goal difference separating them.
Two well-taken strikes in either half by Keane Watts saw off the challenge of their opponents, who had plenty of the ball without really creating too much in the way of clear-cut chances in an overall somewhat scrappy encounter.
Both sides were singularly lacking a cutting edge in the final third, although the visitors did create the better opportunities with Luke Martin in the home goal dealing with an early Ryan Bevan cross.
A run by Thomas Hillman up the Swansea left culminated in a low delivery which was deflected for a corner, before Scott Coughlan was called into action to smother a near post attempt from Adam Morgan.
The Reds were having the better of the overall play, with efforts by Hillman and Miles John both on target but were blocked or dealt with by Martin, before they eventually took the lead on 27 minutes courtesy of a sublime through ball by Josef Hopkins which put Watts clear, and he kept his nerve by drawing out Martin before slotting his finish into the bottom corner.
Another chance was then created with Tim Parker sending Hillman away on a run, but this time the finish was dragged wide of the near post.
The home defence was finding it difficult to contain their opponents, and it took a good defensive clearance to nullify another dangerous low delivery by Eli Phipps when he was set up by a John assist.
A rare home attack ended with Morgan directing his header over the goal when he met a cross by Tom Johnston, before it took a saving tackle from Warren Hudson on Parker to prevent the striker homing in on the target.
The best chance for the hosts came courtesy of some sloppy Reds defending when an under-hit back header meant for Coughlan was seized on by Tim Hicks, and it took a great tackle on him in the box to relieve the danger and an almost certain equaliser.
This scare seemed to unnerve the visitors who were then let off the hook again following a corner which was partially cleared before being re-circulated into the goalmouth, where Parker was on hand to clear it off the line.
Having survived these two late first half efforts, the Reds were still clinging on to their narrow lead at the start of the second period, and were quickly into their stride, forcing Martin into early action on a couple of occasions, before gratefully seeing a Phipps header rebound off the crossbar when he connected with a Watts cross into the middle.
The visitors then made two changes, with Bevan and Phipps being replaced by Kyran Steadman and Louis Gerrard on 59 minutes, but it was the home side who then went close to levelling matters when Harry Huddart unleashed a superb strike which brought out an equally stunning save from Coughlan to direct it over the top.
With the contest entering its final quarter, the Reds brought on Nathan Logan and Travis Marsh for Parker and Hillman after 75 minutes, and within five minutes of these changes struck again to seal matters with Watts again the recipient, taking full advantage when a defensive clearance rebounded off his back allowing him to win a footrace for possession before directing his finish across Martin on 80 minutes.
The visitors then safely saw out the remainder of the match without too much trouble, and with confidence sky high in the squad, now look forward to their home league encounter with Abergavenny Town at Stebonheath on Friday evening, kick off 7.30pm.
The draw for the second round of the JD Welsh Cup has awarded them an away tie at Canton Liberal on Saturday, October 8.
WRU Cup round up: Wins for Llangennech, Pontyberem and Nantgaredig
THE WRU Cup competitions got underway last weekend and there were some exciting matches across all groups.
Llangennech sealed victory in their first game of the Division 1 Cup as they beat Kenfig Hill 32-17. They led 13-7 at the break and increased that in the second half.
Jordan Saunders scored the first try for Llangennech and Tom Neale converted before adding two penalties.
Joseph Hutchings was next to get on the scoresheet and Neale again added the extras to make it 20-12.
Replacement Rhys Davies then scored two tries with Neale converting the second one to complete the scoring.
The other game in Group H saw Llanelli Wanderers suffer a 21-30 defeat at the hands of Bridgend Athletic.
Lewis Jones scored two tries for the Wanderers and he added the rest with the boot.
In Group I, Hendy were also beaten as they suffered a 14-43 loss at the hands of Waunarlywdd.
In Group J, Felinfoel were beaten 23-8 by Bonymaen.
In the Division 2 Cup, Nantgaredig were victorious in an entertaining Group G game against Seven Sisters. They eventually ran out 32-29 winners.
The other game in that group saw Kidwelly beat Maesteg Celtic 52-7. Kidwelly put in a solid performance and their defence held up to some extreme pressure during the parts of the game.
Pontyberem were victorious in their first game in Group H as they beat Pyle 19-10.
The Bont worked hard for the win, scoring three tries with fly half Dominic Sauro crossing, and two tries for the returning back Mikey Jenkins. It was a solid enough performance against an experienced and rugged side.
In Group J, Burry Port suffered a narrow 23-26 defeat at home against Morriston. Tries for the Blacks came from Lewis Ellar and Osian Thomas. Lee Evans added two conversions and three penalties but it wasn’t enough for victory.
In Group L, Tycroes suffered a 3-39 defeat at the hands of Builth Wells.
In the Division 3 Cup, Tumble suffered a 22-42 defeat against Nantymoel in Group G.
In Group H, New Dock Stars earned a 22-13 win over Llanybydder. Tries came from Iestyn Bunyan, Adam Gealy and Glen Williams. Adam Gealy added two conversions and a penalty to help seal the win.
Trimsaran’s first game in Group I saw them beaten 13-32 by Aberavon Green Stars.
Bynea suffered a 52-0 loss in Group J against Tonmawr and in Group M, Betws were beaten 14-20 by Swansea Uplands.
In Group O, Furnace United were beaten 17-29 by Taibach.
Scarlets denied victory by late Ospreys try
A stoppage-time try denied the Scarlets a derby victory in a pulsating BKT United Rugby Championship clash at Parc y Scarlets.
Scarlets produced a dominant second-half display to lead 23-16 going into the final minutes, but some late ill-discipline proved costly with replacement Rhys Davies crossing and Jack Walsh converting to steal a 23-23 draw for the visitors.
Fly-half Sam Costelow was the outstanding figure on display, racing over for a brilliant individual try and kicking 13 points in a player-of-the-match performance. Centre Johnny Williams was also not far behind, delivering a powerful midfield showing that included a fine try of his own.
It was the Ospreys who started the stronger with the impressive Gareth Anscombe taking an inside pass for the opening try, which he also converted. Anscombe landed a penalty before Costelow struck back.
The Ospreys 10 was on target again to make it 13-3 then after Costelow was yellow carded for an illegal clear out, it needed a determined defensive effort to prevent the visitors crossing for their second.
On the stroke of half-time came one of the game’s many talking points with Justin Tipuric catching Johnny McNicholl with a late challenge. McNicholl was forced to leave the field for a head injury assessment and it led to a second penalty for Costelow.
After a rusty opening 40 minutes, the Scarlets went through the gears after the break.
A brilliant counter from the lively Tom Rogers paved the way for a third Costelow success, then from the restart Anscombe responded with three of his own.
Wing Keelan Giles was sin-binned for a deliberate knock on and the Scarlets took immediate advantage when Williams burst through midfield and fended off defenders to the line.
Williams could have had a second, but the move was brought back for obstruction.
Then, with 15 minutes minutes remaining, Costelow produced a moment of magic to race clear to the posts for a score (after deliberation by TMO) that he also converted.
Costelow came within inches of a second, but the Scarlets kept pressing for the match-clinching score.
Instead it was the Ospreys who held out and in a dramatic finale headed down the other end of the field where Davies pounced before Walsh landed the game-equalling conversion with the last kick of a dramatic finale.
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