Scarlets 41 Connacht 36
Connacht signed off their Guinness Pro 14 season with a loss to Scarlets, but with Champions Cup rugby achieved and a second place finish in Conference B, coach Andy Friend will reflect on a season of solid gains in this Covid-hit season.
The only niggle is that Connacht, having never won at Parc Y Scarlets, let slip a golden opportunity when enjoying a 33-12 half-time lead. But on this occasion Scarlets’ need was the greater, recovering from two first-half sinbinnings, and prevailing over fellow Welsh outfit Cardiff for that final European place.
The fixture had all the hallmarks of a typical end of season try-fest – some 11 scored in all. Connacht bagged five in the opening half after the home side had opened the scoring within two minutes. Taking advantage of a penalty to establish territory, Scarlets launched their first attack with flanker Aaron Shingler having an easy finish for the line.
Connacht, however, made the most of their first attack, helped by a yellow card for Scarlets prop Pieter Scholtz. A dominant scrum was rewarded with go-forward ball before fullback John Porch crossed and outhalf Conor Fitzgerald converted. Andy Friend's side added a second six minutes later, scrumhalf Kieran Marmion breaking up field before Abraham Papali'i finished out wide for a 12-5 lead.
After a second Scarlets yellow card, Connacht's attack from deep was rewarded when centre Seán O'Brien, relishing his start, added his name to the scoresheet. Although Scarlets centre Steff Hughes crossed for his side's second try, Connacht finished the half with two more tries, Dominic Robertson-McCoy and Kieran Marmion adding their names to the scoresheet.
With Cardiff and Edinburgh locked in a battle at the same time, Scarlets made the most of the second half. Scoring three tries within 16 minutes of the restart, it was all one-way traffic as they achieved victory with two more tries to secure Champions Cup rugby. Connacht’s two bonus points ensured they finished comfortably in second place, some six points ahead of the Welsh outfit.
SCORING SEQUENCE– 2 mins: Shingler try 5-0; 12: Porch try, Fitzgerald con 5-7; 18: Papali'i try 5-12; 27: S O'Brien try, C Fitzgerald con 5-19; 30: S Hughes try, Jones con 12-19; 35: Robertson-McCoy try, Fitzgerald con 12-26; 38: Marmion try, Fitzgerald con 12-33. HT 12-33. 45: S Hughes try, Jones con 19-33; 51: Blacker try, Jones con 26-33; 55: T Rogers try 31-33; 69: Jones pen 34-33; 72: Sebastian try, Jones con 41-33; 80: Carty pen 41-36.
SCARLETS: T Rogers; T Prydie, T Morgan, S Hughes (capt), S Evans; D Jones, D Blacker; S Thomas, M Jones, P Scholtz; L Rawlins, S Lousi; A Shingler, JMorgan, S Kalamafoni.
Replacements: A O'Brien for Prydie, J Williams for Morgan (both 41 mins); W Homer for Prydie (56), K Mathias for Thomas, J Sebastian for Scholtz (both 57), U Cassiem for Shingler (73).
Yellow card: M Jones (10 mins); P Scholtz (26).
CONNACHT: J Porch; B O'Donnell, S O'Brien, T Daly, A Wootton; C Fitzgerald, K Marmion; J Duggan, S Delahunt, D Robertson-McCoy; N Murray, G Thornbury; P Boyle (Capt), C Oliver, A Papali'i.
Replacements: F Bealham for Robertson-McCoy (41 mins), O Dowling for Thornbury (51) S Masterson for Papali'i (52), P Sullivan for O'Donnell (56), J Carty for Fitzgerald (60), C Reilly for Marmion (69), P Sullivan for O'Donnell, D Tierney-Martin for Delahunt (both 65).
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (WRU).