Scarlets go close again, but Toulon progress to Euro semis

Rob LloydNews

Scarlets were knocked out of the European Challenge Cup despite a gutsy effort in a bruising quarter-final clash with Toulon at the Stade Mayol.

In a match of fine margins, Scarlets led 6-0 at the interval thanks to two penalties from the boot of Leigh Halfpenny, but the French side upped their game in the second period to edge it 11-6 and make it three wins from three against the West Walians in the competition this season.

Scarlets had their opportunities and were pressing for the match-winning score in the dying seconds, but it was the French side who held on to book a home semi-final against Leicester Tigers.

In front of a Covid-restricted crowd of 5,000, Scarlets were on the board early. Skipper Ken Owens got over the ball to win a third-minute penalty close to halfway and up stepped Halfpenny to bisect the uprights with something to spare.

The former Toulon favourite was then called into some heroic defensive action, scything down home full-back Daniel Ikepfan with a brilliant try-saving cover tackle.

The French side were enjoying plenty of possession and territory, but time and again they came up against a stubborn defensive wall.

Toulon thought they had scored on 29 minutes when a superb counter-attack was finished off by veteran No. 8 Sergio Parisse. But the score was chalked off for a forward pass in the build-up and the scoreboard remained unmoved, much to the frustration of the Mayol faithful.

To rub salt into Toulon wounds, they were penalised moments later for interfering with scrum-half Gareth Davies, allowing Halfpenny to nail a second penalty from straight in front.

With Johnny McNicholl a constant threat, the Scarlets came more into the game as an attacking force as the half went on with a clever Dan Jones grubber almost opening up the home defence.

But it remained 6-0 to the Welsh side at the break as they looked for their first ever victory at the ground.

Halfpenny had an opportunity to extend the Scarlets’ advantage shortly after the restart, but the full-back pushed his kick just wide.

With Toulon forcing Scarlets into giving away a string of penalties, the hosts pulled three points back through replacement Louis Carbonel.

Then on 56 minutes, the men in red snatched the lead when a quick tap and some slick off-loads paved the way for Parisse to touch down for the try he thought he had in the first half. Carbonel was wide with the conversion attempt and the game remained in the balance going into the final quarter.

As the clock ticked down, Steff Evans was hauled down just short after a Scarlets breakaway then Carbonel struck again with eight minutes remaining.

There was still more drama; Tyler Morgan, on his debut, had the ball dislodged as he went for the line a yard out then the Scarlets pack was denied from a couple of short-range driving mauls.

McNicholl was forced off with an ankle injury in the closing stages leaving the Scarlets to finish the game with 14 men and in the final minute Toulon turned over the ball to seal another tight contest between the two Euro rivals.

Toulon – pens: L. Carbonel (2). Try: S. Parisse.

Scarlets – pens: L. Halfpenny (2).