Scarlets edge Connacht
MATCH REPORT: Scarlets edged a hard-fought contest with Connacht 20-14 to claim their third win of the PRO14 season, triumphing in Galway for the first time since April 2017.
Glenn Delaney’s men took a slender lead into half-time, with Ryan Conbeer notching tries either side of Abraham Papali’I’s score, and Dan Jones kicking three points from the tee.
Dane Blacker went over early in the second half to extend Scarlets’ lead, and though Ultan Dillane reduced the home side’s disadvantage, the Welshmen held on for the win.
While Scarlets celebrate back-to-back Championship wins, defeat for Connacht marks a miserable return to action following two postponements, and their run of three successive home victories comes to an end.
The opening exchanges were largely evenly-matched, as both sides looked to gain a foothold in the game in challenging wet and windy conditions.
Scarlets made their first venture into home territory in the fourth minute after Gavin Thornbury was penalised for being offside, and little over two minutes later their pressure told as Conbeer went over for the night’s opening try.
Following a lineout on the left-hand side, the ball was spread out to full-back Johnny McNicholl, who made a piercing run before stylishly feeding Conbeer to finish in the corner on the six minute mark.
Connacht continued to work hard and were rewarded little over ten minutes later, with Shane Delahunt, Jarrad Butler and Dillane all making hard yards before Papali’I powerfully swivelled out of the breakdown to dot down.
Jack Carty added the extras to give the Irishmen the lead, but Scarlets edged their noses back in front shortly after half-an-hour when McNicholl and Conbeer linked up in familar fashion, with the latter crossing for a near identical score to his first.
With newfound momentum the away side continued to push forward, and Dan Jones kicked his first points of the night after Sione Kalamafoni had made good ground with a darting run.
Having taken a 13-7 lead into the break, Scarlets were first to strike in the second half when Paul Asquith found a gap in the home defence before picking out Dane Blacker in space, who went over unopposed for his second try in as many weeks.
Blacker was then the hero at the other end as he made a try-saving tackle to deny John Porch in the corner, as the home side looked to bridge their 13-point deficit.
Connacht continued to rally and Matt Healy looked certain to score after good work from Tom Daly, but Steffan Hughes this time produced some sublime defensive work to stop the Ireland international in his tracks.
But the hosts’ persistence did eventually pay off with Dillane bulldozing over after a sustained period of Connacht pressure, and Carty converting to set up a tense final 20 minutes.
Denis Buckley looked to have scored a third Connacht try but was judged to have knocked the ball on near the tryline, and though Andy Friend’s men continued battling, the visitors stood firm to hold onto the win.
Tries: Papali’i, Dillane
Cons: Carty 2
Tries: Conbeer 2, Blacker
Connacht: 15 John Porch, 14 Alex Wootton, 13 Sammy Arnold, 12 Tom Daly, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Colm Reilly, 8 Abraham Papali’i, 7 Jarrad Butler (captain), 6 Paul Boyle, 5 Gavin Thornbury, 4 Ultan Dillane, 3 Conor Kenny, 2 Shane Delahunt, 1 Paddy McAllister.
Replacements: 16 Jonny Murphy, 17 Denis Buckley, 18 Jack Aungier, 19 Eoghan Masterson, 20 Conor Oliver, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Tom Farrell, 23 Peter Sullivan.
Scarlets: 15 Johnny McNicholl, 14 Ryan Conbeer, 13 Steff Hughes (captain), 12 Paul Asquith, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Dan Jones, 9 Dane Blacker, 8 Sione Kalamafoni, 7 Jac Morgan, 6 Ed Kennedy, 5 Morgan Jones, 4 Sam Lousi, 3 Javan Sebastian, 2 Taylor Davies, 1 Rob Evans.
Replacements: 16 Daf Hughes, 17 Phil Price, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 Danny Drake, 20 Uzair Cassiem, 21 Will Homer, 22 Angus O’Brien, 23 Tyler Morgan.
Referee: Sam Grove-White
Assistant referees: Andrew Brace, Peter Martin
TMO: Ollie Hodges