Scarlets’ hopes of reaching the last eight of the European Challenge Cup suffered a blow with a 27-15 defeat to a powerful Toulon at Parc y Scarlets.
Three tries in the space of eight first-half minutes proved critical as the French side took a grip on a game they never released.
Scarlets had plenty of possession and territory, but Toulon’s strong defence and juggernaut pack proved tough to handle.
With one round of pool action remaining, the Scarlets still have a chance of qualifying for the quarter-finals but need a big win over London Irish at the Madejski Stadium and hope other results fall in their favour.
Despite the rain and wind swirling around Parc y Scarlets, the home side shot out of the blocks with a try after just 65 seconds.
It came via a trademark Angus O’Brien cross-field kick which found Johnny McNicholl in acres of space out wide. The winger was hauled down just short of the whitewash, but when the ball was recycled scrum-half Gareth Davies sniped over.
Halfpenny was wide with the conversion, but the full-back extended the lead to 8-0 with a well-struck penalty after 10 minutes.
However, the rest of the half belonged to the visitors from the south of France.
Hooker and skipper Anthony Etrillard was on the end of a powerful driving maul to begin Toulon’s response, then wing Matavesi Dakuwaka showed good strength to cross out wide.
Toulon’s travelling support were celebrating a third try in eight minutes when All Black Julian Savea pounced from a clever kick through, then on the stroke of half-time replacement hooker Bastien Soury crossed from another line-out rumble with Anthony Belleau’s conversion making it 24-8 at the break.
The gap was increased shortly after the turnaround when man of the match Belleau landed a penalty, leaving the Scarlets chasing the game with conditions not getting any better.
To their credit, the home side kept pushing for the score with replacement Rob Evans and No. 8 Uzair Cassiem both going within inches of the whitewash.
Dan Jones came on to reach a century of appearances as the Scarlets emptied their bench and the home side’s second try finally arrived with six minutes left on the clock.
Jones countered down the touchline, found fellow replacement Asquith and his clever kick through was picked up by the winger, who dived over for his seventh try of the season.
Another converted try would have given Scarlets a losing bonus point, but Toulon’s outstanding defence held out to secure them victory and progress into the quarter-finals of the competition.
The Scarlets now head to Reading on Saturday, still harbouring hope of joining the French side in the last eight.
Scarlets - tries: G. Davies, S. Evans; con: L. Halfpenny. Pen: Halfpenny
Toulon - tries: A. Etrillad, M. Dukuwaka, J. Savea, B. Soury. Cons: A. Belleau (4). Pen: Belleau.
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys (England)
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