Scarlets hit back well after early scare against Zebre
THE Scarlets avoided becoming the first ever side to lose to Zebre as they recovered from an early scare to keep their Pro12 play-off hopes alive with a 24-10 victory in Italy.
Simon Easterby's men had fallen behind to a 13th-minute try from Dries van Schalkwyk, but fought back thanks to scores from Liam Williams and Johan Snyman, as well as 14 points from Owen Williams.
The Scarlets hoped the result would have been enough to hold on to the fourth and final play-off spot but, with the Ospreys hammering the Dragons with a bonus point, the Llanelli region slipped down to fifth place.
Zebre, without victory in their first season of existence, had been agonisingly close to causing notable upsets earlier in the campaign, such as when they lost to the Ospreys by just one point at the Liberty Stadium in January.
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Beating the reigning champions on their own turf would have been a remarkable coup for the Italians, and their hopes of claiming a prized Welsh scalp soared after just 13 minutes last night.
Zebre dominated possession and territory in the opening exchanges and, from one of their early forays into the Scarlets' 22, the Italians made light work of their opponents' defence to score the opening try.
Collecting a short pop-pass inside from lock Josh Sole, the hosts' No. 8 Dries van Schalkwyk bulldozed his way towards the line and brushed off some feeble Scarlets tackles to give his side a shock lead.
The only thing less impressive than the defending was Paolo Buso's missed conversion, shanked wide from a perfect position in front of the posts.
Zebre's progress was temporarily halted in a shuddering manner after half an hour when Leonardo Sarto was forced off following a thumping tackle from Matthew Rees in which the Welsh hooker's head inadvertently crashed into the Italian's chin.
Gradually the Scarlets began to settle, and Easterby's men edged 6-5 in front thanks to two penalties from Owen Williams.
Then, shortly before half-time, they made their first telling breakthrough. Having kept possession patiently in the Zebre 22, the Scarlets swept the ball wide to wing Liam Williams and the Welsh international barged Sinoti aside and touched down in the corner.
His namesake Owen missed the conversion but, after five minutes of the second half, he kicked another penalty to give the Scarlets a 14-5 lead.
The visitors then pulled further clear with a spectacular try from an unexpected source, lock Johan Snyman.
The South African picked the ball up just inside his own half and cantered clear, breaking tackles before side-stepping past full-back Alberto Benettin to claim a fine score.
Williams converted and added his fourth penalty to extend their advantage to 24-5, but that was soon cut when Italy wing-cum-centre Giovanbattista Venditti pierced the Scarlets' defence for Zebre's second unconverted try.
That sparked another period of pressure from the hosts, with Scarlets flanker Aaron Shingler sin-binned for an offence at the ruck, but Easterby's players held firm to secure victory.