Scarlets endured a tough opening to their BKT United Rugby Championship season, going down 63-21 to a dominant Vodacom Bulls side in Pretoria
It was always going to be a testing challenge for the West Walians in sweltering conditions at Loftus Versfeld and so it proved with the home side running in nine tries.
Back-rower Taine Plumtree claimed a brace on his URC debut, while Johnny McNicholl also crossed, but that proved mere consolation for Dwayne Peel’s side who will have to dust themselves down quickly and regroup before they head to Cape Town to take on the Stormers in round two on Saturday.
A bright start by the home side saw Bulls co-captain Ruan Nortje drive over from a close-range line-out attack with barely three minutes on the clock. Fly-half Johan Goosen converted.
Another line-out surge saw No. 8 Cameron Hanekom go over in the corner on his debut and Scarlets were already facing a mountain to climb, 14-0 down with seven minutes on the clock.
The men in blue were celebrating a third on 13 minutes with player-of-the-match Hanekom bursting off the back of a scrum to reach over for his second at the posts.
Trailing 21-0, Scarlets looked shell-shocked.
A great turnover from Plumtree and slick hands out wide almost put flanker Dan Davis away down the touchline, but Plumtree was forced into touch five metres out.
Bulls made the most of a Scarlets backline mistake to claim their fourth through hooker Johan Grobelaar with Goosen converting the bonus-point try from straight in front.
Scarlets finally found a response on 31 minutes.
The initial break came from wing Tom Rogers, who beat a number of defenders outside and in before being brought down just short.
A penalty followed and a quick tap paved the way for full-back Johnny McNicholl to cross. Ioan Lloyd converted from wide out.
It needed a stunning try-saving tackle by Rogers on Louw, then Scarlets finished the half in style with their second try.
A clever line-out move put the impressive Rogers into space; the speedster found Plumtree on his inside and the new Wales cap showed good pace and strength to power over.
The first score of the second half was crucial, but it was the home side who grabbed it, a clever chip over the defensive line from Goosen leading to centre David Kriel scoring.
Replacement Stedman Gas was put over between the posts for a sixth, with Goosen’s conversion taking the score up to 42-14 and the sub cut a great line for another for number seven. Further tries were scored by former Sale hooker Akker van der Merwe and Wandi Simelane as Bulls continued their relentless second-half assault.
A great break from Joe Roberts saw the centre send Plumtree racing to the line for his second and Scarlets’ third. Lloyd again added the extras. That gave the West Walians a sniff of a try bonus, but it wasn’t to be.
Bulls – tries: R. Nortje, C. Hanekom (2), J. Grobelaar, D. Kriel, S. Gas (2). A. van der Merwe, W. Simelane. Cons: J. Goosen (9).
Scarlets – tries: J. McNicholl, T Plumtree (2). Cons: I. Lloyd (3).
Referee: Mike Adamason (SRU)