Miquel piles the pressure on Llanelli

Agen 22 Llanelli Scarlets 15
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The Independent Online

This was not the way the script was supposed to run, but Agen, who needed to win if they had any hope at all of keeping their European campaign on the road, brought pride and warmth to a game that called on every sinew.

Once again the Garonne Valley weather gods had done their best to drench the pitch, the intermittent deluge driven by a west wind with enough venom in it to whip the tops of the goal posts through several feet.

Some of the locals were using this as an excuse even before the match kicked off, saying to some less-than-impressed Welsh supporters that this would benefit "the English".

In fact, the worries were more deep-seated and closer to home. This is a club who have often won the French national championship - but not since 1988 (although they were finalists in 2002). And in their European Cup debut season they were facing a side who had been unbeaten this year.

Llanelli have twice made it to the semi-finals and, assuming they beat Borders at home next weekend, will be looking for a big performance against Northampton at Franklin's Gardens over the final pool weekend. Perhaps Agen will soften them up next Friday.

Any thoughts of quick, darting moves were turned into slow-motion lunges by the conditions underfoot but more worrying for Llanelli in the first half was their slow thinking. The Agen tactics were more than obvious; keep kicking the ball downfield and keep the Scarlets pinned in their own 22. There are many ways to counter that, but one of them is not aimless kicking, especially by lofting the ball into a strong breeze.

So Agen, through the boot of their stand-off, Jérôme Miquel, ground out a lead of 12 points, three penalties and an opening drop goal, to a single penalty from Stephen Jones. However, it was a kick-and-chase try from Conrad Stoltz that, with Miquel's conversion, increased the gradient of the second-half mountain for Llanelli.

To their credit they went to it with a will and Jones played his part by adding a string of four more penalties to his sole success in the first half. With just four points the difference and 10 minutes to go, the writing for many was on the wall. But not to the Agen pack, led after a four-week suspension by their captain, Jean-Jacques Crenca. He helped drive them back upfield and the Llanelli captain, Vernon Cooper, upset the eagle eye of the referee, Tony Spreadbury. Miquel's penalty took his tally to 17 points and banged the last nail into the Llanelli coffin.

Agen: S Bonetti; C Coro, C Stoltz, L Lafforgue, M Dourthe; J Miquel, M Barrau; J-J Crenca (capt), N Curnier (P Piacentini, 67), O Hasan (C C Califano, 63), M Kahla, J-M Parent (O Sverzut, 60), M Lievremont, S Socol, P Benetton (E Bertrand, 60).

Llanelli Scarlets: B Davies; G Evans, M Taylor, M Watkins, S Finau; S Jones, D Peel; I Thomas, R McBryde, J Davies, V Cooper (capt), A Jones (D Hodgers, 74), D Jones (C Wyatt, 74), S Quinnell, S Easterby.

Referee: A Spreadbury (England).

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