Jones hints at old glories in meeting of past masters

Scarlets 24 Brive 12: Scarlets up and running towards meeting with London Irish as Brive's Englishmen fail to shine
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The Independent Online

A squint of the eyes and it could have been the 90s again, and the formative years of this grand competition. There were the men in Scarlet punching the air, celebrating a rousing European afternoon, and there were the grim Frenchmen, vowing it would be different next time.

Of course, once the lids were fully opened, here was a new millennium which neither team has grasped. But at least the Scarlets have hope and something to build on.

"We know London Irish will be a big step up next weekend," said their coach, Nigel Davies. "But this is exactly what we needed. It was huge for us – a game we just had to win."

Indeed, credit must be given to his men for turning around a four-match losing streak. To say this proud old rugby town wanted it is a grotesque understatement. Even Davies, usually so calm, felt the tension and was admonished by the referee, Andrew Small, for some choice words after Richie Pugh's late try was disallowed.

"It was quite an emotional situation," the coach said. "Maybe I was overheated."

That may have struck a chord with Warren Gatland. The national coach chose to head to the Parc Y Scarlets, rather than remain in the capital to watch so many of his boys feature for the Cardiff Blues. The Kiwi received what he would have expected from his No 10, Stephen Jones – a typically controlled performance in which he passed 2,500 points for the club. He also got what he wanted from Dafydd Jones, the likely autumn replacement for Martyn Williams if the latter fails to recover from a shoulder operation.

Alongside the indefatigable Australian No 8 David Lyons, Jones took it to Brive, refusing to allow the backward steps to mount. In contrast, the three Englishmen in the French ranks (four if you counted the replacement Steve Thompson) were probably relieved that their national manager, Martin Johnson, was not in attendance. None of Andy Goode, Jamie Noon or Shaun Perry stood out. This was the 1997 champions' first Heineken Cup appearance in 11 years and it was something of an anti-climax. They could not even land a losing bonus point.

The Scarlets kicked off having won one of their last 12 Heineken Cup games. And that was against Stade Français in a dead rubber in the last campaign. While Brive have been much missed, so, in effect, have the West Walians. It was a pleasure to see them back.

With Jones having shaken off the rust of his Lions summer they were slick in their movement and if they had been as smooth in their finishing they could have scored four tries in the first half. Instead they had to be satisfied with Lee Williams' try just before the break. Daniel Evans, Williams and the replacement Rob Higgitt all watched chances slip through their grasp.

When the long-awaited try arrived, it owed much to the neat footwork and handwork of the Scarlet Scot, Sean Lamont. It was all the visitors deserved as they had arrived with what could generously be referred to as a limited game plan. Goode was accurate with three penalties, although he still found himself replaced with more than half an hour remaining – for an Italian outside-half, of all things. In fairness to Luciano Orquera, his first contribution was commendable, a penalty from wide out, but all too soon he turned into a villain. With 14 minutes to go he had an easy opportunity to reclaim the lead at 15-14. Goodness knows how the jittery Scarlets would have responded to that.

The ending was nervy enough as it was. Despite the Scarlets making it 17-12, Brive still breathed and they poured into the home 22. But the resistance was firm and in the last second the gloss was added. Jones hit the post – for a second time – with a penalty and the replacement prop Rhys Thomas crashed over. Cue "Sospan Fach". London Irish be warned.

Scarlets D Evans (R Priestland, 40); M Jones (capt), S Lamont, J Davies (R Higgitt 37), L Williams; S Jones, M Roberts; I Thomas (P John, 50), M Rees (K Owens 32 -40, 45), D Manu (R Thomas, 50), D Day, L Reed (V Cooper, 70), S Easterby (R Pugh, 70), D Lyons, D Jones.

Brive F Estebanez (R Cooke, 59); H Agulla, J Noon, L Mackay, V Waqaseduadua (Barnard, 40); A Goode (L Orquera, 48), S Perry (J-B Pejoine, 70); D Kinchagishvili (P Toderasc, 70), J-P Bonrepaux (S Thompson, 40), J Garcia, C Short, A Mela (R Uys, 40), A Popham (F Domingo, 34), A Claassen, V Forgues.

Referee: A Small (England).

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