Quins wrecking crew start early at Stradey

Scarlets 22 Harlequins 29
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The Independent Online

What a way to say goodbye. Scarlets' next European match will be at their new stadium across town and whether it was the old Stradey stands creaking or the home supporters grumbling, Quins neither knew nor cared. Having trailed by 13 points with half an hour to play the supposed fancy dans demonstrated yet again their gritty touch under Dean Richards' clever coaching.

Richards had a fair few Anglo-Welsh tussles in his playing days and he would have known that, whether as a club or a new-fangled region, the Llanelli boys love to run. Quins leaked two tries in the first six minutes. Yet once the visitors' Argentina centre, Gonzalo Tiesi, pulled his side together, they reeled the Scarlets in. Nick Evans and Dave Strettle were absent injured but Evans' stand-in, Chris Malone, kicked 19 points and second-half tries by Danny Care and Ugo Monye did the rest.

The gleaming new Parc y Scarlets – where the red and white seats spell out "West is Best" – is on one of those archetypal post-modern consumer estates on the other side of town, and would have been glimpsed by Harlequins on their way in from the M4. The name of Llanelli, evocative worldwide of romance and running rugby, has been dropped by the regional team because now it is all about professionalism and corporate hospitality and bang-for-your-buck. Rugby has been played here since 1879 but it will be the first of the great club grounds to be abandoned. Llanelli downed the All Blacks 9-3 here on the last day of October 1972, and according to Max Boyce and the half a million West Walians who said they were there, "the pubs ran dry".

So a housing development will be built after an EDF Energy Cup match against Bristol on Friday week, though the trophy room on the first floor, with the front page of the Western Mail match report of Roy Bergiers' Kiwi-slaying try – headline: "Good Old Sospan Fach!" – will be relocated in a museum at the new ground. Just along the corridor yesterday a famous father and son, Derek and Craig Quinnell, supped a pre-match drink. Craig, formerly of Wales, Saracens, Richmond, Worcester, Cardiff and – of course – Llanelli, like his dad and brothers Scott and Gavin, said: "It's my first game watching rugby this season but I had to come before they knock the place down."

A demolition of Quins looked most likely in the 32 seconds which elapsed between Stephen Jones kicking off and Morgan Stoddart, the Scarlets full-back, dotting down at the left corner, aided by a missed tackle from Gary Botha. Then that rare bird – a free-kick for feeding – was the source of Scarlets' second try. They chose to scrummage, went along the line, and though the pass to Mark Jones was dodgy, the wing forced his way over.

Quins' backs looked rattled and Stephen Jones kicked penalties after 22, 31 and 39 minutes for a half-time lead of 19-3. Chris Robshaw and Will Skinner had been stripping opponents bare in the Guinness Premiership but this competition seemed a different kettle of beer. Fortunately for the team currently fourth in England, Tiesi sorted out the mess. Perhaps he was inspired by his dad, Carlos, visiting from Buenos Aires – London and Llanelli in one holiday, quite a treat. Tiesi junior halted Mark Jones and Stoddart in separate first-half attacks, and Malone's tackle on King, Mike Brown's chase-down of Darren Daniel and a difficult pass spilled by Stoddart all prevented the Scarlets from putting the match out of Quins' reach.

The comeback was hinted at when Malone kicked a penalty four minutes into the second half; then Tiesi harried Regan King into not releasing and Malone cut Scarlets' lead to 19-9.

This was all a great test for Care, Quins' in-form England scrum-half. He was bumped off by his bigger opposite number, Sililo Martens, in the first half and launched into over the top of a ruck by the prop Kees Meeuws after 53 minutes – but Care simply kept coming. Meeuws was lucky not to be sent from the field.

Though Stephen Jones' penalty had made it 22-9, Quins took the initiative, making three changes to their pack and driving to the Scarlets line, where Care squeezed through a gap. Malone converted. Then the Scarlets lost the hooker Matthew Rees to the sin-bin for spear-tackling his opposite number, Tani Fuga, in the 59th minute and with Malone's sixth kick out of seven it was 22-19.

When Malone cross-kicked and Monye raced clear of the cover, Quins hit the front. Malone converted.

A hoisted kick taken by Daniel most oddly – he jumped all over his flanker Gavin Thomas to reach it – had Quins' entire back-room staff and bench baying for a penalty for failing to release and the French referee, Christophe Berdos, obliged. Malone's 45-metre attempt was short but it left the Scarlets four minutes to retrieve a win. It never looked on and when Berdos fingered the Scarlets' captain, Simon Easterby, for handling in a ruck, Malone's kick from the 22 settled it. For Quins, bottom of their Heineken Cup pool last season, Scarlets' fumbling farewell was the perfect start.

Scarlets: M Stoddart; D Daniel, R King (R Higgitt, 66), G Evans, M Jones (C Thomas, 75); S Jones, S Martens (M Roberts, 60); I Thomas, M Rees, K Meeuws, V Cooper (N Thomas), S Maling (S MacLeod, 26), S Easterby (capt), D Lyons, G Thomas (K Owens, 60-69).

Harlequins: M Brown; C Amesbury, G Tiesi (E Taione, 66), J Turner-Hall, U Monye; C Malone, D Care (A Gomarsall, 72); C Jones, G Botha (T Fuga, 54), M Ross, O Kohn (G Robson, 54), J Evans, C Robshaw, T Guest (N Easter, 54), W Skinner (capt).

Referee: C Berdos (France).


Tries: Stoddart, M Jones

Pens: S Jones 4


Tries: Care, Monye

Cons: Malone 2

Pens: Malone 5

Half-time: 19-3

Att: 8,236