SCARLETS 17 ULSTER 9: Terrific Timani spearheads Scarlets victory
SCARLETS 17 ULSTER 9
THE Scarlets produced a dominant forward performance to shock last year’s finalists Ulster and claim a much-needed Pro12 victory in front of their own fans.
It was a hugely impressive display by the West Wales region in the wake of their disappointing draw against Zebre a week earlier.
Spearheaded by man of the match Sione Timani at No. 8 the Scarlets bossed the pack battle in blustery conditions that tested both sides’ tactical game, while replacement fly-half Aled Thomas landed some crucial kicks at goal.
It was only the Scarlets’ second home win of the season and keeps them in the hunt for a top-four spot as the league makes way for the LV= Cup for a couple of weeks.
Both sides went into the match missing key personnel because of international commitments, with head coach Simon Easterby having made nine changes from last week’s draw in Italy.
One of those was Tongan powerhouse Timani coming in for his first start of the season, while prop Samson Lee returned after sitting out a two-week suspension.
The teams were greeted with a swirling wind as they emerged from the tunnel and it threatened to have a huge affect on the match.
But in fairness to both sides, the first half didn’t turn into aerial ping-pong.
It was the Scarlets, led superbly by veteran prop Phil John, who enjoyed the lion’s share of territory and possession to lead 11-3 at the interval.
Ulster had gone in front thanks an early penalty from Ruan Pienaar, playing at fly-half this week, but the remainder of the half belonged to the Scarlets.
It needed some determined defence on their own line from the Ulstermen to deny the Scarlets as they went through a remarkable 33 phases with the ball.
And there was more frustration for the West Walians after the impressive Josh Turnbull burst clear from halfway.
He fed full-back Gareth Owen, but again Ulster’s scrambling defence did its job and the Scarlets had to make to do with an equalising penalty from fly-half Steve Shingler with a quarter of the match gone.
Still, though, the Scarlets kept pressing and their perseverance was rewarded when replacement flanker John Barclay – on for Aaron Shingler - claimed the touchdown from a strong driving line-out.
Steve Shingler missed the difficult conversion attempt and was then forced to leave the field clutching his arm.
Aled Thomas replaced him and the first thing he had to do was try and halt a rampaging Nick Williams; the second was to land a tricky penalty that gave his side an eight-point cushion at the break.
Home indiscipline allowed Pienaar the chance to reduce the arrears with a fine penalty four minutes after the restart, but the Scarlets, with Thomas driving low kicks into the wind, were coping well with the conditions.
The Scarlets almost carved open a second try when centre Adam Warren took advantage of a kind bounce and fed Gareth Davies.
The speedy scrum-half was on his way to the try-line, but was scragged by his shirt by Nick Williams.
With the Scarlets on the offensive deep in the Ulster 22, replacement David McIlwaine was penalised for infringing at the breakdown and Thomas landed the close-range penalty to put his side two scores ahead.
The Scarlets, though, were unable to relax as Pienaar landed a third penalty from long range with 11 minutes remaining.
Incredibly, the Springbok then missed a sitter from close range, which would have narrowed the gap to two points and the Scarlets took full advantage of their let-off.
As soon as Ulster were back up to their full complement, they saw another man sin-binned, flanker Roger Wilson, for a trip on Timani.
From the ensuing line-out, the Scarlets won a penalty and Thomas held his nerve to make it 17-9 to clinch a much-needed victory and also deny the Irish province a losing bonus point.