Llanelli retreated from Perpignan last week exhausted and disheartened, a heavy defeat reducing their chances of survival in Europe to Berlin Wall proportions. The unexpected opportunity to make bricks out of straw was provided by Wasps' victory over Ulster last Sunday, but it meant the Scarlets had to beat Leicester. No sweat.
Well, actually there was an ocean of sweat and blood and, probably inspired by the emotional coach, Gareth Jenkins, a saucepan of tears.
Jenkins's pre-match speech to Llanelli was of Churchillian standards and the players responded magnificently. Llanelli, who lost the first leg at Leicester 12-9, consumed the Tigers with a passion play to reach the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup.
They won by eight penalties to four, and the fact that they did not manage to score a try in either game was a statistic that nobody considered at Stradey Park. What mattered above all is that Llanelli are back in Europe's business class.
Leicester, the Heineken Cup champions and the best side in England by a distance, had not won here since 1974 (mind you, they hadn't played here for 12 years), when Llanelli were celebrating their epic triumph over the 1972 All Blacks. They still are, although yesterday's performance will provide the choirs with fresh heart and voice.
Beating Leicester may not be quite the same thing as beating New Zealand, but it will still do nicely in west Wales. Indeed, it was almost like old times as 10,600 people packed the famous old ground and it seemed that half of them swarmed on to the pitch at the end to give thanks for another famous victory.
Beforehand, Jenkins had told his team to "make the crowd work for you''. He added: "This place is f***ing special." Afterwards he said: "This occasion was huge and it moves the game on. There is no such thing as a favourite. Leicester's form has been magnificent but it was a one-off in a hostile place. Anybody who underestimates Stradey Park and what it does to you mentally is making a big mistake. We won it in our minds, our hearts and our souls.''
Despite a concerto of penalties, the first half could not have been more engrossing. Llanelli won the toss, a big call under the circumstances, and played against the strong wind. By half-time Jenkins and Scott Quinnell, Llanelli's outstanding captain, must have been licking their lips.
Dean Richards, the Leicester coach, thought his players were a bit nervous before the game, but it was Llanelli who made an error-ridden start. From the kick-off, Quinnell embarked on one of his trademark runs and had made all of two yards when he was hit sideways by Martin Johnson. Game on.
When Robin McBryde threw a line-out ball straight to Johnson a few minutes later Llanelli, on the back foot, conceded a penalty which Andy Goode put to the right of the posts. The stand-off soon had chances to gauge the wind and hit the target. Goode landed penalties in the sixth and eighth minutes to give Leicester a customary platform.
Stephen Jones got the first of his eight penalties in the 18th minute following the most promising phase of play yet by Llanelli. Goode made it 3-9 after 22 minutes and they exchanged further kicks as referee Rob Dixon continued to keep a tight rein on the game.
However, the Scarlets were not only beginning to play a more passionate role, but their best-laid plans, intelligent under the conditions, were beginning to pay off.
Following a lovely move in which Leigh Davies and Salesi Finau were prominent, Leic-ester, looking increasingly worried, allowed Jones to level at 9-9. Goode landed his fourth penalty to give the Tigers the lead again after 31 minutes, but from that point they were outplayed, out-fought and outmanoeuvred. It takes a good memory to recall the last time Leicester were treated with such disdain.
When Darren Garforth was shown a yellow card for killing a ruck five minutes before the interval Jones levelled at 12-12 and then struck a huge psychological blow with his fifth penalty to put Llanelli ahead after Leicester had fallen off-side in a attempting to stop a series of drives down the middle featuring the extraordinary Martyn Madden, John Davies and Chris Wyatt. "If we had gone in 15 points down I'd have been satisfied,'' Jenkins said. Instead they went in three points in front and had, as the coach put it, a territorial claw on Leicester.
Indeed. Facing the wind Leicester barely emerged from their half and Jones continued to punish them, adding three more penalties for a strike rate of 100 per cent.
Tactically the Scarlets were in a class of their own. This win was worth £250,000 to them and it could not have come at a better time.
Llanelli 24 Leicester 12
Pens: S Jones 8 Pens: Goode 4
Half-time: 15-12 Attendance: 10,614
Llanelli: G Evans; W Proctor, N Boobyer, L Davies, S Finau (M Jones, 74); S Jones, G Easterby; M Madden, R McBryde, J Davies, V Cooper, C Wyatt, S Easterby, S Quinnell (capt), D Hodges.
Leicester: G Murphy; S Booth (O Smith, 76), L Lloyd, R Kafer, F Tuilagi; A Goode, J Hamilton; G Rowntree, D West, D Garforth, M Johnson (capt), B Kay, W Johnson (L Moody, 30; J Kronfeld, 65), M Corry, N Back.
Referee: R Dixon (Scotland).Reuse content