The conditions couldn’t have been better at Parc y Scarlets on Saturday for a good quality rugby match, yet despite patches of excitement it was a match that on a whole, fell a bit flat.
Worries had been there before the match for Scarlets fans that with so many players returning that had been on international duty would have an effect on team cohesion and precision, and sadly those fears were realised.
The Scarlets coaching staff refused to use it as an excuse yet it was obvious to all that watched that it was a Scarlets team that was lacking game time. This did not however excuse the lack of basic skills on display from them, nor take away anything from what was a clinical, efficient and ultimately a good winning performance from their visitors Exeter Chiefs.
The first points came in the fourth minute of the match, where a break from Naqelevuki left gaps behind the Scarlets’ defence which scrum half Thomas took advantage of, to breeze through the oppositions defence to score, which was converted.
Priestland managed to claw back three points for the Scarlets yet the Chiefs stretched their lead again through the boot of Steenson.
The first half was set to follow that pattern with the score at the interval 6-16, with neither side troubling the others’ try line as defences and discipline was set to be the deciding factors.
Injuries struck the Scarlets throughout the match, with the loss of young prop Samson Lee, backrow Aaron Shingler and also the worrying site of Rhys Priestland being stretchered off with suspected Achilles trouble. The Chiefs weren’t without their share of injuries either, with scrum half Thomas already having departed in the first half.
Given that Exeter Chiefs are loudly championed as being a very tough forwards unit, it was perhaps surprising that the Scarlets seemed to make most of their inroads in the match through carries from their pack. Lack of support at the breakdown cost them however as too often their carriers were isolated and the Chiefs were able to turn them over with relative ease.
Their forwards play finally paid off after an intense period of pressure in the Chiefs’ 22, and from the ensuing scrums the Scarlets gained a very hard earned penalty try, aided somewhat by the yellow carding of Exeter’s Ben Moon.
Going into the last ten minutes, there was only a converted try between the sides and the Scarlets continuously pressed, yet the lack of basic skills in both their passing and kicking time and again let them down, and they were not able to take any advantage of the possession they had.
Their visitors ended the game 22-16 victors, having taken all their chances of points. Ultimately it was a game decided by the basics, and it was the Exeter Chiefs that delivered this with aplomb.
The Scarlets will face a very tough trip to Sandy Park now for the return fixture, facing a Chiefs side buoyed by their first ever, and very much deserved win, in the Heineken Cup.
Full time score: Scarlets 16 – 22 Exeter Chiefs
Scarlets:15 Dan Newton14 Liam Williams13 Jonathan Davies (capt)12 Scott Williams11 Andy Fenby
10 Rhys Priestland 9 Aled Davies1 Phil John 2 Matthew Rees 3 Samson Lee 4 George Earle
5 Richard Kelly 6 Aaron Shingler 7 Johnathan Edwards 8 Kieran Murphy
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Shaun Hopkins, 18 Jacobie Adriaanse, 19 Johan Synman, 20 Sione Timani, 21 Tavis Knoyle, 22 Aled Thomas, 23 Gareth Maule
Exeter Chiefs:15 Luke Arscott 14 Gonzalo Camacho 13 Sireli Naqelevuki 12 Jason Shoemark 11 Matt Jess
10 Gareth Steenson 9 Haydn Thomas 1 Brett Sturgess 2 Simon Alcott 3 Hoani Tui 4 Tom Hayes (capt)
5 Damian Welch 6 Tom Johnson 7 James Scaysbrook 8 Richard Baxter
Replacements:16 Neil Clark 17 Ben Moon 18 Carl Rimmer 19 Aly Muldowney 20 Dean Mumm 21 Kevin Barrett 22 Ignacio Mieres 23 Ian Whitten