Scarlets beat Connacht in nine-try thriller
PRO14 MATCH REPORT: Jack Carty’s missed conversion proved crucial as Scarlets held on to beat Connacht in a thrilling 36-27 encounter.
The flyhalf had a chance to level the scores with just five minutes to go, but he pulled it wide allowing the champions held on to secure a memorable win.
Wing Steff Evans was on fire for Scarlets as he scored one try and set up two others in a breathless first half – which saw seven tries scored.
Connacht’s Tiernan O’Halloran was also excellent and scored twice, but the Irish side were always chasing the game and could not quite get level.
Scarlets handed centre Scott Williams his first start of the season, but they were without the key trio of Gareth Davies, Samson Lee and John Barclay.
Connacht also made multiple changes, the most notable saw O’Halloran return from injury and start on the wing.
But the hosts led in the seventh minute as Lions centre Jonathan Davies bulldozed his way through before supplying winger Johnny McNicholl to cross.
However, any home fans expecting a comfortable night were disappointed as Connacht hit back.
Scott Williams’s loose pass was picked up by the alert Carty and the flyhalf darted through unchallenged.
Leigh Halfpenny then missed a penalty, but it did not take long for the champions to hit the front again.
The ability to cut through teams with ball-in-hand was the backbone of Scarlets success last season and they demonstrated that once more as Davies set-up wing Evans to run through and score.
Carty reduced the deficit again with a penalty, but Evans was immense going forward and he broke through two tackles and handed off to Rhys Patchell to dot down.
In a topsy-turvy game, Connacht hit back and took the lead with two tries – one each for the wings.
A flowing move from right to left ended in the returning O’Halloran strolling over, before Kian Kelleher crossed from close range after Scarlets committed too many players to the middle – leaving the wing free on the right.
But Scarlets regained the lead just before half time as Evans again burst through down the left and supplied Leigh Halfpenny to secure a bonus point.
After all the drama of the first half, the second was far calmed and neither side added to the scores until Halfpenny booted over a penalty.
Both sides had lost their attacking spark, with defences well on top and both full-backs kicking for territory.
But a piece of O’Halloran magic brought Connacht within two as he juggled a loose pass twice before diving over the line.
Carty had the chance to bring the sides level with a conversion, but he pulled it badly wide with five minutes to go.
And Scarlets secured victory minutes later as Tadgh Beirne crossed following a scrum.
Tries: McNicholl, Halfpenny, Evans, Pathcell, Beirne
Cons: Halfpenny 4
Tries: Carty, Kelleher 2, O'Halloran
Cons: Carty 2
Scarlets: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Aled Davies, 8 Josh Macleod, 7 Will Boyde, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 David Bulbring, 4 Jake Ball, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Ken Owens (captain), 1 Rob Evans.
Replacements: 16 Emyr Phillips, 17 Dylan Evans, 18 Simon Gardiner, 19 Tadhg Beirne, 20 Lewis Rawlins, 21 Jonathan Evans, 22 Paul Asquith, 23 Tom Prydie.
Connacht: 15 Darragh Leader, 14 Tiernan O’Halloran, 13 Bundee Aki, 12 Tom Farrell, 11 Cian Kelleher, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Caolin Blade, 8 Eoin McKeon, 7 Jarrad Butler, 6 Jake Heenan, 5 Quinn Roux, 4 Ultan Dillane, 3 Conor Carey, 2 Tom McCartney (captain), 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Shane Delahunt, 17 Denis Coulson, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Gavin Thornbury, 20 Eoghan Masterson, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Steve Crosbie, 23 Eoin Griffin.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Ben Whitehouse, John Hardy (both Wales)
TMO: Sean Brickell (Wales)