Scarlets 22 Harlequins 29: Davies red faced as Scarlets surrender
The brass band at the Pwll end of dear old Stradey played only fitfully with a "Sospan Fach" here and a "Delilah" there punctuated by long periods of silence, and they were bang in tune with the Scarlets team in front of them. For most of the second half of this season's opening Heineken Cup Pool Four match – which was also the last European tie to be played here before next month's move to a new stadium – the men in red played as if they'd been hit in the face by a large frying pan, never mind the fabled little saucepan.
"This Scarlets side can play rugby, there is no doubt about that, but the trouble is when it comes to the big games," said Nigel Davies, the Scarlets head coach suitably flabbergasted at his team tossing away leads of 19-3 at half-time and 22-9 with 55 minutes played.
Dean Richards, the Harlequins director of rugby, left West Wales aboard the club's team coach which is about to go off for a repaint complete with blacked-out windows. Quins had no need to hide their faces, after 19 points in kicks from Chris Malone (pictured) and the tries by Danny Care and Ugo Monye in that switchback last 25 minutes that gave them a great launch towards a first Heineken Cup quarter-final in 11 years.
Scarlets started quite stunningly, with tries by Morgan Stoddart, the full-back, and Mark Jones, that pugnacious and pacy Wales wing, in the first eight minutes. It did not seem to matter much that Stephen Jones missed both conversions, as the fly-half knocked over three penalties before the interval and another with 50 minutes gone.
The Scarlets' problem was that they'd appeared to have jettisoned their killer touch along with the Llanelli name which was dropped recently from the region's title. Chance after chance went begging, principally due to the Quins defence bucking its ideas up under the leadership of Gonzalo Tiesi. The Argentina centre was watched by his dad Carlos, who is on a fortnight's holiday from Buenos Aires, and is now hopeful of a follow-up win against Ulster on Saturday before he heads home.
A daft "clear-out" offence by Kees Meeuws and a trip to the sin bin for fellow front rower Matthew Rees started the rot for Scarlets in the third quarter. Richards and his equally canny forwards coach John Kingston rang the changes in the Quins pack and the fresh legs drove forward for the try by Care. Then Malone cross-kicked for the fleet-footed Monye, and Quins were in front, with Malone – filling in at fly-half – doing the rest by converting seven of his nine shots at the posts.
Scorers: Scarlets: Tries Stoddart, M Jones; Penalties S Jones 4. Harlequins: Tries Care, Monye; Conversions Malone 2; Penalties Malone 5.
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), G Thomas (K Owens, 60-69), D Lyons.
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, W Skinner (capt), T Guest (N Easter, 54).
Referee: C Berdos (France).
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