Scarlets have much to do before Europe beckons
IT was a painful ending, but the Scarlets will look back at their latest defeat in northern Italy knowing that many of the wounds were self-inflicted.
Two charged-down kicks that led to tries, a late sin-binning and a rash penalty at the death contributed to a third successive league defeat at the Stadio Monigo and raises further question marks as the Heineken Cup looms ever closer.
Despite being under the cosh for long periods in the second period, this was a game the Scarlets shouldn't have lost after opening up a 20-5 lead shortly after the interval.
But after weathering a ferocious onslaught on their own line in the closing minutes, the West Walians, not for the first time in recent years, had to watch an opposing kicker step up and snatch the points as the clock headed into the red.
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Head coach Simon Easterby said: "It was bitterly disappointing for the boys to lose in that way, but there are a lot of positives, including how we adapted in key areas up front from the previous weekend.
"The physicality was much better and the intensity throughout the game was right up there.
"I cannot fault the attitude or effort from the boys. They fought so hard in the second half and with a man down they defended with everything they had.
"We probably tried to create too much at times and played too much rugby in our half. We drew a bit of pressure from their line-out and driving maul.
"There were a few instances where our execution and accuracy should have been better.
"But as far as the pack goes, I thought we competed well against one of the better packs in the league. They are a very physical team and I thought we turned our scrum around this week compared to the previous performance."
Two opportunist scores from wing Andy Fenby — his fourth and fifth of the campaign — had given the Scarlets a great platform to bounce back from the disappointment of their derby loss to the Ospreys.
After Rhys Priestland had landed a 13th-minute drop-goal, the Wales No. 10 gathered a loose clearance to release the North Walian speedster 30 metres out.
Fenby still had plenty to do but showed impressive pace to outstrip the covering defence and then ride a couple of tackles to touch down.
Priestland, who had a far better evening with the boot, converted from wide out, only for Treviso to respond quickly.
It came with a bit of assistance from the visitors, with Gareth Davies's charged-down clearance allowing hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini to pick up and drive over.
Nevertheless, the Scarlets maintained their pressure and it was a Treviso error that allowed them to extend their advantage just before half-time.
Azzurri international Kris Burton, playing at full-back, attempted an ambitious switch with his wing Tommaso Iannone, only for the ball to go loose, offering Fenby the chance to hack through.
Showing great footballing skills, Fenby turned on the afterburners and won the 60-metre race for the touchdown.
Another successful conversion made it 17-5 to the Scarlets at half-time, with a Priestland penalty shortly after the restart pushing the visitors further clear.
But that was where it all started to go wrong. The Scarlets had spoken all week about not allowing the hosts to get their formidable driving line-out into motion.
That, though, is often far easier said than done and the Treviso pack began to turn the screw.
Scarlets indiscipline aided the home cause, with Scottish referee Andrew McMenemy handing skipper Rob McCusker a general warning for his side persistently hauling down the drive illegally.
And as the half continued, so did the Treviso momentum.
After having one forward surge ruled out by the television match official, Treviso weren't to be denied moments later when replacement scrum-half Fabio Semenzato found the whitewash from close range.
A conversion by Alberto Di Bernardo closed the gap to eight points, and when No. 8 Robert Barbieri charged down a kick by full-back Jordan Williams 13 minutes from time, the pendulum had swung massively in favour of the Italians.
A fourth home try appeared inevitable when McCusker was yellow- carded for lashing out after being held by a Treviso forward.
But to their credit, the seven-man Scarlets pack were able to hold firm at a close-range scrum and defend a ferocious battering with some scrambling last-ditch defence.
But just as it seemed as if they had cleared the danger, flanker Johnathan Edwards was ruled to have infringed at a ruck on halfway and up stepped Di Bernardo from 50 metres out to send the home crowd into raptures.
It was cruel on the Scarlets, but the second half again highlighted that there are areas of major concern just two weeks out from Europe and a daunting trip to French giants Clermont Auvergne.
Again, the Scarlets scrum found itself under pressure, while the Treviso pack was so dominant after the break that the running skills of Priestland, Jonathan Davies, Liam and Jordan Williams were made redundant.
Priestland's return to form was a major plus, with the Wales No. 10 showing the type of composure that elevated him into Warren Gatland's starting XV last autumn, while Jordan Williams, his error apart, again looked at ease on the regional stage.
What is clear is that the Scarlets pack needs to rediscover the combative energy of the early weeks.
With the Ospreys hitting their straps and Munster and Leinster sure to be in the top-four mix at the end of the season, the Scarlets know they cannot afford to throw away opportunities like this on the road.
How crucial Saturday's lost points will be, only time will tell. For the moment, Easterby and Co have more pressing concerns.