Scarlets 24 – 13 Newport Gwent Dragons
The predicted rain teemed down on Friday night at Parc Y Scarlets, ending hope for it to be a free, running game of rugby.
It was a hesitant start from both sides, with understandable handling errors given the conditions, but it was the Dragons that drew first blood with a Steffan Jones penalty giving them a 3-0 lead.
The Scarlets made inroads into the Dragons’ defence each time they had the ball, and with their scrum starting to get the upper hand through young prop Samson Lee, it was looking good for the home side. Poor handling, especially in contact, saw them squander their chances.
Fly half Aled Thomas levelled the scores with a penalty of his own to make it 3-3, yet the weather was doing its best to put out any sparks of life in this match.
It was down to the TMO to inject a bit of excitement as the assistant referees were unable to judge whether an Aled Thomas penalty had bounced off the right post to go through the uprights.
Despite numerous re-plays showing the ball crossing through the posts the TMO adjudged the penalty to have missed. He then advised the referee to award a try to Scarlets player Gareth Maule who had the awareness to follow up after the kick and ground the ball in the far corner.
To add insult to injury, Aled Thomas converted, to give the Scarlets a 10-3 lead. The first half continued to be error strewn, with Thomas adding 6 more points with the boot to lead the Scarlets in at half time with a 16 – 3 lead.
The second half saw the return of Scarlets ace Morgan Stoddart, who had been out of the game for 15 months due to a horrific leg injury. He almost got off to a dream return, but was dragged down five metres short from the line due to stern Dragons defence.
The scoreboard didn’t start ticking over again until the last quarter when Prydie slotted three points for the Dragons. Some sloppy Scarlets defence opened up a gap on the wing for the Dragons not five minutes later, to see Adam Hughes slide over for a deserved try, which Prydie duly converted.
With fifteen minutes to go, it was now an uncomfortable 16-13 lead for the Scarlets who had been looking assured for most of the game, particularly in the scrums.
The Dragons’ hard work was undone moments later however, when under pressure from a retreating Dragons scrum, scrum half Evans infringed and it was one Dragons infringement too many for referee Nigel Owens and he was duly sent to the sin bin.
Shortly after, an effective Scarlets backline move saw replacement fly half Rhys Priestland send a drifting pass out to wing Soddart who was able to race in unopposed to score a try on his comeback. It was greeted by rapturous applause from the Scarlets faithful, and it was clear to see how much it meant to Stoddart and his teammates.
It was then a matter of running the clock down for the Scarlets, and they were safely able to see out a 24 – 13 victory at home.
Scarlets: Liam Williams; George North, Gareth Maule, Scott Williams, Andy Fenby; Aled Thomas, Tavis Knoyle; Phil John, Matthew Rees, Samson Lee, Sione Timani, Johan Snyman, Aaron Shingler, Rob McCusker (capt), Josh Turnbull, Rob McCusker.
Replacements: Ken Owens, Shaun Hopkins, Deacon Manu, Richard Kelly, Kieran Murphy, Gareth Davies, Rhys Priestland, Morgan Stoddart.
Dragons: Dan Evans; Adam Hughes, Pat Leach, Andy Tuilagi, Tom Prydie; Steffan Jones, Jonathan Evans; Toby Faletau, Nic Cudd, Lewis Evans (capt), Adam Jones, Ian Nimmo, Dan Way, Steve Jones, Phil Price.
Replacements : Hugh Gustafson, Aaron Coundley, Nathan Buck, Jevon Groves, Tom Brown, Liam Davies (Bedwas), Ashley Smith, Will Harries.