There have been some improb-able results in the Heineken Cup, but none as improbable as this. By the time Clément Poitrenaud scored his fourth try early in the second half -yes, his fourth - Toulouse were 21 points ahead and dreaming of a happy Christmas. Then the men in red crashed down their chimney and ransacked the place. The Scarlets' astonishing victory, which came with a bonus point, has virtually assured them of a place in the quarter-finals while condemning Toulouse to a shocking exit.
The Scarlets ran riot in the second half to maintain their domination of Pool Five, and the circumstances could hardly have been more extraordinary. Near the end two key decisions by the television match official went in the visitors' favour, and with the score 34-34 they conjured up a match-winning try in injury time. Sheer magic.
Poitrenaud thought he had maintained Toulouse's interest in the tournament with a tour de force here. His position, full-back, used to be called the last line of defence, but in Poitrenaud's case it was the platform for all-out attack. He scored all his side's tries, his hat-trick coming within half an hour. At that point the Scarlets were trailing 24-3.
The greatest escape began on the stroke of half-time when Dafydd James took a brilliant inside pass from Regan King to make it 24-10. Even so, the status quo was maintained seven minutes into the second half when Poitrenaud - with a lavish sidestep he beat his opposite number, Barry Davies - scored his fourth try. This alone was a record-breaking performance. Here was a one-man bonus point.
And then everything turned against Poitrenaud and Toulouse as the Scarlets, relishing a match of laissez-faire grandeur - defence or tactical kicking could go hang - ran in four tries. With Stephen Jones converting every-thing to go with two penalties, the Scarlets won by five goals and two penalties to four goals, a penalty and a drop goal.
Their second try came in the 50th minute, cleverly created by the No 8, Alix Popham, for the right wing, Darren Daniel: 31-17. Dwayne Peel took over as the acting captain from the injured Simon Easterby. A week ago it was Easterby who scored the winning try in an unlikely 20-19 victory over Toulouse at Stradey Park. That was exciting enough, but it had nothing on this.
"I've never played in a better game," Peel, the Wales and Lions scrum-half, said. "I couldn't believe it when we were 21 points behind but I never thought that we couldn't win it. For that reason we never gave up."
At the end Phil Davies, the Scarlets' director of rugby, ran on to the pitch to give Peel a huge bear hug before the players celebrated in front of a small red pocket of supporters.
It all started to go wrong for Poitrenaud when he missed a straightforward tackle on Davies, who made the most of his reprieve with a breathtaking counterattack from his own 22, finishing it at the other end of the ground. Poitrenaud eat your heart out: 31-24. After the relative calm of an exchange of penalties between Jones and Valentin Courrent, Daniel got his second try from a grub kick which caused panic. The referee, Chris White, confirmed Daniel's touchdown after an adjudication by the video official: 34-34.
Toulouse, who lost Poitrenaud to an injury, raided the replacements in pursuit of a victory they needed to stay in the competition. The crowd did not like the ruling on Daniel's second try one little bit, and their mood worsened considerably when, in the 77th minute, Trevor Brennan crashed over the Scarlets' line. What Mr White could not see was whether Toulouse's resident Irishman had grounded the ball. Enter once again the video ref, the Englishman Graham Hughes, and he ruled "no try". While Brennan was fuming, Florian Fritz opted to win the match with a drop goal. That too was put before Hughes, who decided that the kick had missed.
A tied score would have been an infinitely better result for the visitors than the hosts, but the Scarlets rounded off an unbelievable second half with another cracking try. Stephen Jones feinted to drop at goal and instead moved to the left, where a dramatic change of pace by the excellent King broke the defence. Although he was stopped just short of the line, he popped up the ball for Nathan Thomas to score.
Cue incredulity. The little red pocket broke into song and the Toulouse supporters, those who had not deserted the stands, gave the Scarlets a standing ovation. It was thoroughly deserved.
The French clubs are threatening to boycott the Heineken Cup - there are issues over money and control - but if they do they will sacrifice red-letter days like this one.
Toulouse: C Poitrenaud (B Baby, 72); V Clerc, M Kunavore, F Fritz, C Heymans; G du Toit, V Courrent (J-B Elissalde, 74); J-B Poux, Y Bru (capt; V Lacombe, 65) D Human (S Perugini, 40), F Pelous (R Millochluski, 39), P Albacete, J Bouilhou (T Brennan, 74), G Lamboley (Y Nyanga, 58), T Dusautoir.
Llanelli Scarlets: B Davies; D Daniel (Garan Evans, 75), Gavin Evans, R King, D James; S Jones, D Peel (capt); I Thomas, M Rees, C Dunlea (D Manu, 32), A Jones (I Afeaki, 40), S MacLeod, D Jones, A Popham (N Thomas, 72), G Thomas.
Referee: C White (England).Reuse content