Scarlets kept their hopes of a Guinness PRO14 semi-final very much alive with a bonus-point win over the Dragons to celebrate Ken Owen’s 250th appearance in the jersey.
Three tries in each half was enough to secure a comfortable 41-20 victory at Rodney Parade, a win that moved the Scarlets into second spot in the Conference B standings.
Glenn Delaney’s side are now hoping for Connacht to upset the odds against Munster in Dublin on Sunday. If the Westerners do manage that feat, Scarlets will be heading to the Irish capital themselves for a last-four clash against tournament favourites Leinster.
The build-up to the game had been dominated by the remarkable milestone reached by Wales and Lions hooker Owens, who was afforded the honour of running out onto the field on his own prior to kick-off.
There may not have been any fans in the stands, but there would undoubtedly have been many at home applauding the man popularly known as ‘The Sheriff’.
After a frenetic opening it was Dragons No. 10 Sam Davies – the match-winner at the same ground in December – who opened the scoring with a 12th minute penalty for the home side.
But with the Scarlets pack and scrum already in the ascendancy, it was the visitors who claimed the game’s opening try.
A line-out drive took play to within sight of the whitewash and it was left to prop Samson Lee to muscle his way over from short range for only his second try in Scarlets colours.
Jones converted, but the Dragons’ response was swift as wing Jared Rosser was freed out wide. Davies added the extras to restore their three-point advantage.
However, it wasn’t long before the Scarlets were celebrating again. More strong work by the forwards took the ball deep into home territory and smart work from Dan Jones freed Steff Evans for his third try in two games. Jones was again on target with the conversion.
With the home side falling foul of referee Craig Evans, the Scarlets were able to gain a foothold in opposition territory and another line-out drive saw flanker James Davies, on his first start of the campaign, cross for the third.
But as the Scarlets have found in the recent past, the Dragons are a tough nut to crack and a try on the stroke of half-time by flanker Taine Basham ensured the game remained in the balance at the interval.
Back-rower Harrison Keddie was shown yellow early shortly after the restart and the Scarlets thought they had a fourth when debutant Sione Kalamafoni leapt over a ruck to score, only for the television match official to rule out the try.
Instead, they had to wait until the 55th minute for that crucial bonus-point try. Man of the match Dan Jones put in a perfectly weighted grubber behind the Dragons defence and wing Johnny McNicholl was quickest to react as he gathered and dived over.
Dragons thought they had a breakaway score through Rosser, but again the TMO intervened and spotted an infringement inside the home 22 which allowed Jones to add another three points to his side’s tally.
That proved a pivotal moment as the Scarlets crossed for two further tries to kill the game off as a contest.
Replacement Tom Rogers gathered a neat kick from Jones following a lovely off-load from Steff Hughes, then the young wing turned provider for substitute nine Dane Blacker, who ran a superb inside line to claim his first try for the Scarlets.
Former Scarlet Adam Warren claimed a late consolation, but the result had already long been decided.
Dragons – tries: J. Rosser, T. Basham, A. Warren. Con: S. Davies. Pen: Davies.
Scarlets – tries: S. Lee, S. Evans, J. Davies, J. McNicholl, T. Rogers, D. Blacker. Cons: Jones (4). Pen: Jones.