Scarlets opened their European Challenge Cup quest with a hard-earned 20-16 victory over London Irish at Parc y| Scarlets.
Tries from wing Corey Baldwin and skipper Steff Hughes, combined with 10 points from the boot of Dan Jones were enough to secure the points after a stop-start contest in Llanelli.
Prop Rob Evans produced a man-of-the-match display at the heart of the Scarlets’ forwards effort, while Tevita Ratuva put in an eye-catching display on debut.
It was the visitors who enjoyed the early possession and territory, although the Scarlets were in defiant mood in defence.
Dan Jones opened the scoring with a 14th minute penalty success, but it was Irish who were celebrating the game’s first try five minutes later.
Some strong forward surges had the home side on their heels and it was hooker Motu Matu’u who powered over from close-range.
Experienced fly-half Stephen Myler converted and Irish then did well to repel a home drive in the corner.
The Premiership side found themselves down to 14 men when centre Bryce Campbell was shown yellow for a deliberate knock-on as Scarlets looked to have men out wide.
And after knocking hard on the door, the home side found a way through.
It came via a lovely kick through from Jones, which caused panic in the Irish defence. The visitors failed to deal with the bouncing ball, which landed gratefully into the arms of wing Corey Baldwin who dived over to score on his European debut.
Jones converted to give the Scarlets the lead, but in a half dominated by the whistle of referee Sean Gallagher, Myler levelled then added another penalty before Jones squared things up again at 13-13 after the Scarlets had been held up over the line.
Myler had a chance to restore his side’s lead soon after the restart, but pushed his penalty attempt wide and it was the Scarlets who conjured up the moment of the match for Hughes’s second-half try.
Ratuva made some hard yards, the ball found Kieron Fonotia and he put in a beautiful right-footed chip which landed perfectly in the arms of his centre partner, who dived over at the posts.
Jones’s conversion made it 20-13, but Myler ensured Irish kept hanging on at the coat-tails with another penalty from straight in front.
Replacement Ryan Lamb, on for Jones for the final quarter, kept the Scarlets playing in the right areas with some lovely kicks out of hand and the home side were able to hold onto their advantage to open their Pool 2 account with a win.
All eyes now turn to a trip to Toulon, who beat Bayonne in their opening tie in the pool.
Scarlets - tries: C. Balwdin, S. Hughes. Cons: D. Jones (2). Pens: Jones (2).
London Irish - try: M. Matu’u. Con: S. Myler. Pens: Myler (3).
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