Scarlets take advantage of scrappy Connacht to book semi-final spot
Welsh side gain bonus-point win in Galway and will travel to play Leinster or Munster
Scarlets’ Liam Williams and Marnitz Boshoff of Connacht in action during the Guinness Pro 12 game at the Sportsground in Galway. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Connacht 8 Scarlets 30
A fond farewell, but there was no winning performance for Pat Lam’s final Guinness Pro 12 fixture at the Sportsground. Instead Scarlets booked a semi-final trip to play either Leinster or Munster thanks to a bonus-point victory while Connacht had to be content with giving several returning players game time before their Champions Cup playoff.
It did not stop the Clan Terrace erupting into the Fields of Athenry after nine players, backs coach Conor McPhillips and Lam were officially farewelled at the end of what has been a disappointing league season.
‘We weren’t at the races in the first half,” said Lam. “You can see the rustiness, our defending wasn’t great in the first half, but to be fair we knew it was a risk, but we had to take it. We had to get these guys on the field because we are running out of numbers for the playoffs.
“We also have to give credit to Scarlets. They have British Lions in there and internationals in there, a hungry team that has not reached the semi-finals in many years. Now next week we face a strong Munster team. Other guys will get opportunities until we have finalised the strongest possible team to play that playoff game.”
In contrast, the Welsh outfit, packed with internationals, was heading home full value for the win, and they now prepare to host local rivals Ospreys in their final league fixture. They were well on their game at the Sportsground, posting four of their five tries in the opening half to secure the bonus point. The much-changed Connacht side, with nothing at stake, struggled to cope with pace and execution of their visitors, but showed character to keep Scarlets to a single try in the second half.
Scarlets opened with an all-too-easy try from fullback Johnny McNicholl which Rhys Patchell converted – the only one of the evening in the difficult wind conditions. Connacht replied with a Marnitz Boschoff penalty after 10 minutes, having a struck a beauty to the corner to set up field position. But within minutes the visitors had bagged try number two – a solid scrum providing the platform as their backs continued to punch gaps in the cover. Eventually left wing Steffan Evans crossed with Patchell’s conversion drifting wide with the wind.
Boschoff’s touch kicking ensued Connacht enjoyed their share of territorial control, while Jake Heenan and Seán O’Brien were tigerish at the breakdown. But the home side was unable to add to the score when the South African’s second penalty attempt sailed wide far after he was tackled high.
Scarlets revelled in the space they were able to create against a porous defence. McNicholl supplied Evans for the third try, while Liam Williams bagged the next despite the hint of a forward pass.
A couple of overcooked kicks did not help help the home side’s cause, but behind at the break by 22-3, they showed their traditional character to reduce the deficit after 57 minutes. John Muldoon and Quinn Roux certainly boosted Connacht on their second-half introduction, and showing patience when camped on their opponents’ line, they were eventually rewarded for keeping the ball in hand as the Scarlets ran out of numbers and Tom Farrell sent Craig Ronaldson through.
Connacht’s momentum was stymied when Patchell added a 65th-minute penalty and they finished with a Van der Merwe try from a simple blindside move off the scrum where Connacht’s defence was against found lacking.
CONNACHT: T O’Halloran; D Leader, T Farrell, E Griffin, C Kelleher; M Boschoff, C Blade; F Bealham, G Heffernan, D Robertson-McCoy; J Cannon, A Browne (capt); S O’Brien, J Heenan, E Masterson.
Replacements: C Ronaldson for Griffin (22 mins), Buckley for Robertson-McCoy (h/t) , Q Roux for Cannon and J Muldoon for Masterson (46 mins), S Delahunt for Heffeernan and JP Cooney for Bealham (both 67 mins), D Poolman for O’Halloran (71 mins).
SCARLETS: J McNicholl; L Williams, J Davies, H Parkes, S Evans; R Patchell, J Evans; R Evans, K Owens (capt), S Lee; J Ball, T Beirne; A Shingler, J McLeod, W Boyde.
Replacements: D Bulbring for Ball (38 mins), DTH Van de Merwe for L Williams, W Kruger for Lee (both h/t), R Ellias for Owens and G Davies for J Evans ( both 52 mins),W Jones f or R Evans (66 mins), L Rawlins for Singler (72 mins).
Referee: M Adamson (SFR).