Llanelli's crisis deepened last night as they fell victim to the Irish minnows Connacht at home. The Scarlets were outscored by four tries to two in an inept performance that will leave their coach, Gareth Jenkins, with some major questions to answer ahead of the daunting Heineken Cup opener with Toulouse in two weeks' time.
The defending Celtic League champions were under intense pressure to produce an emphatic response to their many critics, and three of the players Llanelli are banking their future on combined to give the home side an early advantage.
Gareth Bowen, who has the onerous job of filling Stephen Jones' boots at No 10, slotted over his first penalty after three minutes before the centre Matthew Watkins featured twice in the move that led to a try for the scrum-half Dwayne Peel.
Having taking the initiative, however, Llanelli were soon to find a young but committed Connacht team frustratingly resilient as they failed to turn a glut of possession into more points. That frustration was exacerbated when the Irish visitors struck with their first attack, three minutes into first-half injury time, as the scrum-half Conor O'Loughlin scrambled over despite protests from Llanelli that he had lost the ball in the process.
Connacht continued to show scant regard for their hosts after the break, with a clinical edge to their finishing that Llanelli were missing. There was no doubt about Connacht's second try, either, as the wing Ted Robinson picked up from the base of a ruck and scampered over from 25 metres out to leave the Stradey Park crowd in a stunned silence.
Llanelli huffed and puffed but it was Connacht who struck again on the hour when Conor McPhillips barged over in the corner following James Downey's tackle-busting run. The Scarlets finally replied when their big flanker Dafydd Jones was shoved over by the rest of his pack, this time to Connacht's fury after they felt they had prevented the Wales international from touching down.
But their response was decisive as the flanker Mike Swift flopped over the line in injury time to secure a first win at Stradey Park that sends them to third in the table.
Llanelli: G Evans; T Selley, M Watkins, M Taylor, S Finau; G Bowen, D Peel (M Watkins, 40); I Thomas, M Rees, J Davies (P John, 52), V Cooper (capt), A Jones (C Wyatt, 40), D Jones, S Quinnell, G Thomas.
Connacht: D Slemen; T Robinson, J Downey, M McHugh, C McPhillips; P Warwick (E Elwood, 53), C O'Loughlin; R Hogan (A Clarke, 68), J Fogarty (H Bourke, 56), S Knoop (J Mouldon, 67), P Myburgh, A Farley, M Swift, M Carroll, M Lacey.
Referee: A Ireland (Scotland)