Scarlets strengthen Champions Cup bid
Scarlets strengthen Champions Cup bid
Pro14 WRAP: Scarlets boosted their hopes of clinching a place in next season’s Champions Cup while severely denting Edinburgh’s own chances by claiming a 27-25 victory at Murrayfield.
* Meanwhile in the other Saturday match Zebre extended the Dragons’ winless run to six Pro14 matches with a 26-15 victory which lifted the Italians to fourth in Conference A.
Edinburgh 25-27 Scarlets
Scarlets boosted their hopes of clinching a place in next season’s Champions Cup while severely denting Edinburgh’s own chances by claiming a 27-25 victory at Murrayfield.
Richard Cockerill’s Edinburgh team went into the crucial Pro14 clash hoping to trim back the 11-point deficit separating them from the Welsh outfit, who sit third in Conference B.
But even with two games in hand on Glenn Delaney’s men, it now looks an impossible task for Edinburgh to pull back Scarlets’ 14-point lead after the visitors claimed their first win at Murrayfield since 2013.
Tries from Magnus Bradbury, Darcy Graham and Dave Cherry left Edinburgh two points behind going into the final minutes of the game.
But their late charge faltered and Scarlets won out thanks to three scores from Tyler Morgan, Johnny McNicholl and Dane Blacker.
While the visitors were without 11 Wales stars due to Six Nations duty, Edinburgh had the luxury of being able to include Grant Gilchrist, Jaco Van Der Walt and Graham after they were released from the Scotland squad following the postponement of Sunday’s clash with France.
But it was Scarlets’ own indiscipline that handed Edinburgh the opener as the Scottish side made the most of two penalties inside the opening four minutes to drive to the tryline, with Bradbury barging over.
Delaney’s team continued to get on the wrong side of referee Ben Blain as Dan Jones’ penalty was quickly cancelled out by Van Der Walt.
But Scarlets got the benefit of the doubt from the TMO as Morgan burst through from Tom Prydie’s suspiciously forward-looking offload to draw the scores level after 18 minutes as he dotted down under the posts.
Van Der Walt nudged Edinburgh back in front with a penalty but Graham’s decision to try to run the ball from his own 22 is unlikely to have pleased Cockerill, especially when his speculative offload ended up in Welsh hands.
Scarlets wasted no time punishing that mistake as they worked the ball all the way left for McNicholl who finished brilliantly in the corner on the half-hour mark.
Yet Edinburgh continued to play with the handbrake off and hit back after a madcap phase of play just two minutes before the break that saw possession swap back on fourth before Van Der Walt stepped past Steff Evans before slotting in Graham to make amends for his earlier mistake.
The hosts had smiles on their faces as they went down the tunnel leading 20-17 – but it did not take long for them to be wiped off by a rapid 10-point swing in Scarlets’ favour.
The crazy action resumed just two minutes into the second period as Evans used his dribbling skills to boot a bouncing ball beyond Van Der Walt as he sprinted up field from halfway, with the supporting Blacker diving over the line for a score that was quickly followed up by another Jones penalty.
Edinburgh’s European hopes were slipping away but they refused to give up without a fight. Cherry powered over from a line-out maul but Van Der Walt’s missed conversion meant Scarlets retained a two-point lead with 20 minutes remaining.
The Scotland stand-off was off-target again as his penalty attempt from almost halfway drifted wide but Edinburgh still had time to play with.
However, after 20 and more phases of action, Graham’s late charge for the line came to nothing as Scarlets held firm for a vital win.
Play of the match
Blacker’s try just after half-time proved to be the turning point as the Welsh side regained control. Steff Evans showed his football skills as he dribbled forward after pouncing on a loose ball, with supporting scrum-half Blacker arriving at the perfect moment to dive over the whitewash.
Player of the match
With Edinburgh desperate to salvage their European ambitions, Scarlets had to be fully committed and Kalamafoni, the big Tongan number eight, personified that approach as he fronted up both with his full-blooded carries and determined defensive effort.
Tries: Bradbury, D Graham, Cherry
Cons: Van der Walt 2
Pens: Van der Walt 2
Tries: T Morgan, McNicholl, Blacker
Cons: D Jones 3
Pens: D Jones 2
Edinburgh: 15 Damien Hoyland, 14 Darcy Graham, 13 James Johnstone, 12 George Taylor, 11 Eroni Sau, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Nic Groom (co-captain), 8 Viliame Mata, 7 Ally Miller, 6 Nick Haining, 5 Grant Gilchrist, 4 Magnus Bradbury, 3 Lee-Roy Atalifo, 2 Mike Willemse, 1 Pierre Schoeman (co-captain).
Replacements: 16 David Cherry, 17 Boan Venter, 18 Murray McCallum, 19 Andries Ferreira, 20 Luke Crosbie, 21 Charlie Shiel, 22 Nathan Chamberlain, 23 Chris Dean.
Scarlets: 15 Johnny McNicholl, 14 Tom Prydie, 13 Tyler Morgan, 12 Steff Hughes (captain), 11 Steff Evans, 10 Dan Jones, 9 Dane Blacker, 8 Sione Kalamafoni, 7 Jac Morgan, 6 Uzair Cassiem, 5 Sam Lousi, 4 Morgan Jones, 3 Pieter Scholtz, 2 Marc Jones, 1 Phil Price.
Replacements: 16 Taylor Davies, 17 Kemsley Mathias, 18 Alex Jeffries, 19 Tevita Ratuva, 20 Ed Kennedy, 21 Will Homer, 22 Angus O’Brien, 23 Paul Asquith.
Referee: Ben Blain
Assistant referees: Sam Grove-White, Graeme Ormiston
TMO: Charles Samson
Zebre 26-15 Dragons
Zebre extended the Dragons’ winless run to six Pro14 matches with a 26-15 victory which lifted the Italians to fourth in Conference A.
Starting the day at the bottom of the pile, Zebre’s fourth win of the campaign saw them climb above their visitors and Glasgow, although the Dragons have a game in hand and the Warriors – who visit Leinster on Sunday – have two.
The Dragons remain without a victory since their one-point triumph in Glasgow on December 5 and now sit at the foot of the table.
Back row forwards Renato Giammarioli and Lorenzo Masselli crossed for Zebre, with Paolo Pescetto kicking 13 points.
The Dragons, whose efforts were hampered by yellow cards shown to Ben Fry and Ross Moriarty in the first half, scored two second-half tries through Jonah Holmes but it was too little, too late.
Dean Ryan’s men applied some early pressure from a driving line-out but it was Zebre who went in front when Giammarioli showed a good turn of pace to touch down after seven minutes.
A well-worked line-out move saw the ball eventually land in the arms of the number eight, who spotted the gap, stepped inside and raced for the line, with Pescetto adding the extras.
Pescetto missed a subsequent penalty but the Dragons were dealt a setback soon after when Fry was sin-binned for a reckless clearout.
Zebre then extended their lead by three points via the boot of Pescetto, although that was as much as they could muster during Fry’s time in the bin.
The Dragons managed to get three points on the board when Sam Davies split the posts after 28 minutes before Pescetto missed for a second time from a relatively straightforward position.
The Zebre flyhalf made no mistake from a simpler spot moments later to re-open the Italians’ 10-point advantage and the Dragons were down to 14 men again two minutes from the interval – Moriarty penalised for a no-arms tackle.
Pescetto found the target from the resulting penalty to send Zebre in at half-time with a 16-3 lead.
Michelangelo Biondelli went over in the corner in the opening minute of the second half but the try was ruled out on review after his knee strayed into touch under pressure from Jack Dixon.
Zebre were not to be denied in the 49th minute, however, when wonderful hands from Pierre Bruno and Enrico Lucchin sent the ball out to the right wing, where Masselli was on hand to finish the job, with Pescetto converting for a 23-3 lead.
The Dragons finally went over for their first try after 66 minutes when Rhodri Williams launched an inventive pass out wide for Holmes to touch down.
Davies kicked his side into double figures and, after Antonio Rizzi had added three points to Zebre’s total, Holmes crossed again but it was little more than a consolation for the men from Newport.
Play of the match
Zebre’s second try extended their lead to 20 points and went a long way to wrapping up the win.
With Bruno’s lovely offload and Lucchin’s flick-on for the final pass to Masselli, it was the most eye-catching move of the match – although Williams’ pass for Holmes’ opening try is a close second.
Player of the match
Marcello Violi put in a tremendous shift for Zebre at scrum-half.
He can claim the assist for Giammarioli’s touchdown and his change of direction was key to the move that eventually opened the door for Masselli to go over.
Tries: Giammarioli, Masselli
Cons: Pescetto 2
Pens: Pescetto 3, Rizzi
Tries: Holmes 2
Zebre: 15 Michelangelo Biondelli, 14 Pierre Bruno, 13 Tommaso Boni (captain), 12 Enrico Lucchin, 11 Gabriele Di Giulio, 10 Paolo Pescetto, 9 Marcello Violi, 8 Renato Giammarioli, 7 Potu Junior Leavasa, 6 Lorenzo Masselli, 5 Ian Nagle, 4 Samuel Ortis, 3 Eduardo Bello, 2 Oliviero Fabiani, 1 Daniele Rimpelli.
Replacements: 16 Massimo Ceciliani, 17 Paolo Buonfiglio, 18 Matteo Nocera, 19 Mick Kearney, 20 Jimmy Tuivaiti, 21 Nicolò Casilio, 22 Antonio Rizzi, 23 Jamie Elliott.
Dragons: 15 Jordan Williams, 14 Jonah Holmes, 13 Aneurin Owen, 12 Jack Dixon, 11 Ashton Hewitt, 10 Sam Davies, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Huw Taylor, 7 Ben Fry, 6 Harrison Keddie (captain), 5 Joe Maksymiw, 4 Ben Carter, 3 Lloyd Fairbrother, 2 Ellis Shipp, 1 Greg Bateman.
Replacements: 16 Richard Hibbard, 17 Josh Reynolds, 18 Aaron Jarvis, 19 Joe Davies, 20 Dan Baker, 21 Rhodri Williams, 22 Josh Lewis, 23 Jamie Roberts.
Referee: Gianluca Gnecchi
Assistant referees: Manuel Bottino, Matteo Liperini
TMO: Stefano Roscini