Nobody can say the Welsh didnot take their World Cup exit personally. There have beenthree matches against French opposition in the Heineken Cup openers and the regions have taken three victories. Here it was the sight of George North which did most to convince that those exploits in New Zealand were merely tantalising glimpses of the future.
It was not only North, however. The Scarlets have so much burgeoning talent. Castres, third in the French Top 14, discovered that to their cost yesterday as the home side secured a win which gives them hope in the most demanding of pools.
"We just had to win, there was no question of that," said the region's coach, Nigel Davies. "I was delighted with all our World Cup boys. I thought the centres were excellent and what can you say about North? Whenever he gets the ball there's a thrill in the air."
North is an oddity in the fact that he came into this match having played as many senior club games as he has internationals (15 for the Scarlets, 15 for Wales). But then, he is also an oddity in the realms of the physical and the talented. Normal rules do not apply for this 19-year-old.
This was his first HeinekenCup match, as it was for Scott Williams, another of the boys who shone at the World Cup. Rather amazingly, Williams and Jonathan Davies had never formed the centre partnership for the Scarlets before. They had for Wales.
North is the one who can plonk bum after bum on seat after seat. Maybe it was the anticipation of seeing him that caused one supporter to inspire a strange tannoy announcement: "Please return to your Audi in Car Park B. You've left your doors unlocked and your engine running." But then, they are proud of their Heineken heritage in Llanelli. Yesterday they became the fifth team to play 100 games in the competition and they can look back at a few semi-finals with that romantic bitterness which seems exclusive to Welsh rugby fans.
The Scarlets have not reached the knockout stages since 2007 and a group which features Northampton and Munster makes this season's challenge daunting. But one win has been achieved.
North was soon crashing through Frenchmen in a first-half in which the Scarlets' scrum was pulverised. They still commanded the contact area, and thus the scoreboard. The lead came from three penalties from Stephen Jones – selected over the World Cup fly-half find, Rhys Priestland – and a daft yellow card for Castres' Joe Tekori, who shoulder-charged Williams.
That offered the Scarlets the momentum and two minutes into the second half they created daylight when Sean Lamont, their Scotland wing, sneaked over after a burst of pressure. With Chris Masoe, the wily All Black, a handful in the back row, Castres still threatened, but in the 53rd minute an outrageous score doused their resistance. The French believed the ball was out in the Scarlets 22, but Johnathan Edwards kept it alive and so began the 90-metre spectacular. North had a hand in it, as did Davies, but it was left to the No 8, Ben Morgan, to trundle over.
Marc Andreu struck back for the visitors, but any danger of another French sickener was averted when Davies and Scott Williams combined in familiar style for the former to go under the posts. Masoe had a try left in him, but Priestland's penalty meant that Castres crossed the Channel without so much as a bonus point.
"That penalty could be crucial," said Masoe. "It is the 'pool of death', after all."
Scarlets L Williams; G North (D Evans, 74), S Williams, J Davies, S Lamont; S Jones (R Priestland, 54), T Knoyle (R Williams, 54); I Thomas (P John, 60), M Rees (capt; K Owens, 60), R Thomas (R Jones, 67), D Day (S Timani, 16; R Pugh, 79), D Welch, A Shingler, J Edwards, B Morgan.
Castres R Teulet; M Nicholas, P Bonnefond, R Cabannes, M Andreu; R Tales (P Bernard, 71), T Lacrampe (T Sanchou, 63); A Peikrishvilli (M Coetzee, 56), M A Rallier, L Ducalcon (B Mach, 22-29; K Wihongi, 56), M Rolland, R Capo Ortega, S Malonga (J Bornman, 53), C Masoe (capt), J Tekori.
Referee G Garner (England).
Tries: Davies, Lamont, Morgan
Cons: S Jones 2
Pens: S Jones 3, Priestland
Tries: Andreu, Masoe
Cons: Teulet 2
Pens: Teulet 3Reuse content