Kings give champs an almighty scare
PRO14 REPORT: Dan Jones inspired defending Pro14 champions Scarlets as they overcame a spirited Southern Kings in South Africa to keep themselves top of the tree in Conference B.
The Scarlets were given a stern examination of their credentials by the Kings, still searching for their first win of the season, at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium but, despite a raft on players away on international duty with Wales, Wayne Pivac's troops did enough to claim a 34-30 victory.
Tadhg Beirne set the tone for the table-toppers, collecting Jonathan Evans' offload before darting over the line with five minutes gone, Dan Jones converting.
The hosts hit straight back, however, thanks to a superb piece of vision from Oliver Zono.
The Kings flyhalf glanced to his right before chipping an excellent cross-field kick into the air, with Michael Makase leaping into the air to claim the ball before travelling over the whitewash as he landed, reducing the deficit to two points.
In the 17th minute, the Kings edged in front with more enterprising play as a stylish, sweeping move ended with Berton Klaasen splitting the Scarlets' backline with a brilliant grubber kick right into the path of Yaw Penxe, who provided the finishing touch.
Zono bisected the posts with a penalty shortly afterwards to make it 13-7 but, having found their early impetus largely stunted, the Scarlets clawed away at the deficit as Dan Jones comfortably kicked over at the other end with six minutes of the first period remaining.
Another Zono penalty would see the Kings would restore their six-point lead at break and their chances of claiming victory looked all the more promising early in the second period when, after winning a line-out in a favourable position, Martin du Toit jinked over the line for his team's third try of the afternoon, Zono adding the extras.
The Scarlets, who at the start of the half had introduced veteran Phillips, the former Wales and British and Irish Lions scrumhalf who dramatically came out of retirement in midweek, set about attempting to chip away at the 11-point gap between themselves and the Kings.
In the 52nd minute, they did just that as Jones swept the ball out to Ioan Nicholas on the left flank and the young wing crashed over, Jones converting to make it 23-17.
The Scarlets fightback continued apace and not long afterwards, South African prop Werner Kruger barged over, Jones adding the extras once again, as the visitors snuck back in front.
A Jones penalty saw the Welsh side lead 27-23 just past the hour mark but with 66 minutes on the clock, a hoof upfield from Kurt Coleman the Kings caused complete chaos, with two players from each side deceived by the resultant bounce, Harlon Klaasen was able to gleefully ground the ball, Coleman converting to swing the pendulum back the other way.
But, with 10 minutes to go, back came the Scarlets and, following a driving maul, flyhalf Jones stormed over before converting what would prove to be the match-winning score.
For Southern Kings:
Tries: Makase, Penxe, Du Toit, H Klaasen
Cons: Zono, Coleman
Pens: Zono 2
Tries: Beirne, Nicholas, Kruger, Jones
Cons: Jones 4
Pens: Jones 2
Southern Kings: 15 Yaw Penxe, 14 Michael Makase, 13 Berton Klaasen, 12 Martin du Toit, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Oliver Zono, 9 Rudi van Rooyen, 8 Ruaan Lerm, 7 Martinus Burger, 6 Andisa Ntsila, 5 Bobby de Wee, 4 Stephan Greeff, 3 Rossouw de Klerk, 2 Stephan Coetzee, 1 Schalk Ferreira.
Replacements: 16 Alandre van Rooyen, 17 Luvuyo Pupuma, 18 Pieter Scholtz, 19 Jurie van Vuuren, 20 Dries van Schalkwyk, 21 Godlen Masimla, 22 Kurt Coleman, 23 Harlon Klaasen.
Scarlets: 15 Johnny McNicholl, 14 Tom Prydie, 13 Steff Hughes, 12 Paul Asquith, 11 Ioan Nicholas, 10 Dan Jones, 9 Jonathan Evans (captain), 8 Josh Macleod, 7 Will Boyde, 6 Tadhg Beirne, 5 David Bulbring, 4 Lewis Rawlins, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Ryan Elias, 1 Dylan Evans.
Replacements; 16 Taylor Davies, 17 Rhys Fawcett, 18 Simon Gardiner, 19 Tom Price, 20 Jack Condy, 21 Mike Phillips, 22 Ioan Hughes, 23 Morgan Williams.
Referee: Stuart Berry (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Stephen Geldenhuys, Rodney Boneparte (South Africa)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)