Priestland holds his nerve late on as Scarlets snatch last-gasp victory
RHYS Priestland put aside his goal-kicking woes with a match- winning penalty two minutes from time to help the Scarlets snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
After leading 26-19 at half-time with the try bonus point already in the bag, the West Wales region looked like they had thrown it away as young Edinburgh fly-half Harry Leonard kicked the Scottish side into the lead late on.
But a desperate surge from the Scarlets saw the visitors awarded a penalty close to the posts and the Wales No. 10, on as a second-half replacement for Aled Thomas, held his nerve to seal five valuable match points for his men.
The result would have been a huge relief for head coach Simon Easterby after two disappointing European defeats.
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Wing George North was a constant threat, crossing for two tries, while centre Nick Reynolds and scrum-half Gareth Davies also touched down — all before the interval.
But the Scarlets consistently fell foul of Italian referee Marius Mitrea in the second half, only for Priestland to save the day to keep his side hot on the heels of unbeaten leaders Ulster in second spot in the RaboDirect Pro12 table.
Both sides went into the game with some high-profile players on the casualty list.
Wales centre Jonathan Davies was among 14 absentees for the Scarlets, with fellow national squad members Josh Turnbull and Tavis Knoyle also sidelined.
As for the Gunners, they were without playmaker Greig Laidlaw, new All Black signing Ben Atiga and Fijian No. 8 Netani Talei, while they also suffered the late withdrawal of Scotland centre Nick De Luca.
The Scots were, though, able to welcome back leading try-scorer Tim Visser — and did they need him after failing to score either a try or a point in their previous two Heineken Cup defeats.
Michael Bradley's side were also struggling at the wrong end of the league table and looking to avoid a sixth successive reverse in all competitions.
Beforehand, Easterby had urged his side to be more clinical, but they bombed a glorious try-scoring chance inside four minutes.
A great burst by prop Samson Lee — this week called up to the Wales training squad for Poland — was taken on by scrum-half Davies, but with men out wide and the try-line beckoning the ball failed to find full-back Liam Williams and the chance was lost.
In contrast, with virtually their first incursion into the Scarlets 22, Edinburgh were on the scoreboard.
The Scarlets will have felt they should have had a penalty for a trip on Liam Williams, but when a clearance failed to find touch, Edinburgh countered impressively and who else but that man Visser hit a short ball, rode the tackle of Lee and made it under the posts.
Leonard added the extras, but the Scarlets' response was immediate.
A line-out drive put Edinburgh's defence on the back foot and after Morgan Stoddart cut inside only to be held up short, North appeared from the other wing to take the ball and cross for his sixth try of the campaign.
Thomas converted impressively and it was quickly all square.
Not for long, though, as a scrum penalty against Scarlets loose-head Phil John gave Leonard an opportunity to put the Scots back in front on 16 minutes.
Defence wasn't exactly a priority for either side in the opening 20 minutes and it was the Scarlets who claimed their second try on 18 minutes.
The lively Davies again made the crucial incision off the back of a scrum. He fed Reynolds, who showed good pace to beat the cover to the line for only his second try in regional colours.
Thomas again converted, but two Leonard penalties in quick succession gave Edinburgh back the lead with nearly half an hour on the clock.
With ball in hand the Scarlets were always a threat, particularly the menacing North.
And it was the 20-year-old Wales powerhouse who claimed his second and the Scarlets' third try on 32 minutes, brushing off three would-be tacklers before crossing.
But every time the Scarlets scored they duly handed the home side an opportunity to get back into the game and again Leonard was offered a simple penalty chance to level the scores five minutes before the interval.
Such was the see-saw nature of the contest, there was always likely to be another score before the break and so it proved with Davies squeezing over from short-range for a try converted by Thomas which gave the Scarlets a 26-19 advantage at half-time.
It needed some sharp cover from Liam Williams to deny the dangerous Visser following up his chip ahead two minutes after the restart.
Leonard was just short with a penalty attempt on 48 minutes as the Scarlets again fell foul of Italian referee Marius Mitrea at the breakdown.
And after yet another infringement the Italian's patience ended with Davies shown yellow for coming off his feet at a ruck.
Leonard made it 26-22 with his fifth penalty success on 53 minutes and the Scarlets' frustration with the official was increasing with every blast of the whistle.
It was the prompt for Easterby to bring on Wales No. 10 Priestland for Thomas and he slotted straight into the vacant scrum-half role.
But Edinburgh continued to claw their way back into it with Leonard nudging over yet another three-pointer with an hour gone.
The fly-half was being handed plenty of kicking practice by a hugely ill-disciplined Scarlets display and made it seven out of eight after a horrible miss-kick from Priestland resulted in an offside decision.
It gave Edinburgh the lead and sparked the Scarlets back into life.
It needed some strong home defence under relentless pressure to keep the Scarlets out yards from the Edinburgh line and the referee needed to call the captains together after frustrations boiled over after a forward scuffle.
Then three minutes from time, a break from sub Gareth Owen put the Scarlets to within metres of the post and this time the decision went in the visitors' favour.
It wasn't the most difficult of chances, but in the circumstances, Priestland coolly slotted it over and the Scarlets were able to see out the final two minutes to seal the win.