The Scarlets remain firmly in the hunt for the Guinness PRO14 play-offs after claiming a crucial 43-21 bonus-point victory in an entertaining clash with South African side Toyota Cheetahs at Parc y Scarlets.
Head coach Wayne Pivac had described the game as ‘must-win’ beforehand and his players responded with a blistering opening salvo that saw them run in four tries inside the opening quarter.
Playing with pace and plenty of width, the Scarlets ripped open the Cheetahs defence with some brilliant attacking rugby with man of the match Kieran Hardy, Johnny McNicholl and Paul Asquith to the fore.
The home side were up and running after just two minutes.
Centre Asquith made the initial break, McNicholl then cut through and it was No. 8 Uzair Cassiem who was on hand to cross for his first try in Scarlets colours - against his former team-mates.
Fly-half Dan Jones converted and the Scarlets faithful didn’t have long to celebrate again as McNicholl finished off another slick handling move for his side’s second. Leigh Halfpenny, in his first game for the Scarlets since October, converted from wide out.
A rampant home side continued to dominate and a perfectly-weighted chip through from fly-half Jones sat up in the path of Kieron Fonotia for the Scarlets’ third try on 14 minutes.
The try bonus point was in the bag before the 20-minute mark.
The lively Hardy cut through and when he was hauled down just short of the whitewash, flanker Josh Macleod was on hand to pick up and dive over.
The home side then lost McNicholl to the sin-bin for a deliberate offence and the Cheetahs took advantage of the numerical advantage when their pressure was rewarded with a score from centre Benhard Janse van Rensburg, converted by fly-half Tian Schoeman.
And just before the break they had they second with wing Rabz Maxwane, the PRO14’s top try-scorer, showing good footballing skills to gather and touch down.
Pivac would have demanded an immediate reaction in the second half and he got just that with the Scarlets claiming their fifth try three minutes after the restart when prop Wyn Jones powered over from close range.
Halfpenny extended the lead to 35-14, but the Cheetahs weren’t ready to lie down and hit back with a well-worked try for No. 8 Gerhard Olivier, again converted by Schoeman.
A Halfpenny penalty on 54 minutes gave the Scarlets some extra security, before Asquith sealed the points with the home side’s sixth try, created by an interception and brilliant off-load from McNicholl.
The Scarlets had their chances for further tries, but on a number occasions the final pass just failed to go to hand.
The win keeps the Scarlets firmly in the hunt for a top-three play-off spot with only five points separating second and fifth in the Conference B standings.
Scarlets - tries: U. Cassiem, J. McNicholl, K. Fonotia, J. Macleod, W. Jones, P. Asquith. Cons: D. Jones. L. Halfpenny (4). Pen: Halfpenny.
Cheetahs - tries: B. van Rensburg, R. Maxwane, G. Olivier. Cons: T. Schoeman (3).
Referee: John Lacey (IRFU)
|2||Marnus Van Der Merwe||0||0||0||0|
|5||JP du Preez||0||0||0||0|
|13||Benhard Janse van Rensburg||1||0||0||0|
|16||Jacques du Toit||0||0||0||0|
|18||Luan De Bruin||0||0||0||0|