Scarlets recover from horror start to coast to victory over strugglers Connacht
THE Scarlets reclaimed their place in the Pro12 play-off zone with a comfortable 25-15 victory over Irish strugglers Connacht at Parc y Scarlets.
Despite a disastrous start where they conceded a try after barely 30 seconds, six Owen Williams penalties and a try from Joe Snyman gave the hosts an insurmountable 25-8 lead.
A late converted try from Mike Swift gave Connacht hope of an unlikely comeback, but it proved nothing more than a consolation score as the Scarlets climbed up to fourth place.
After watching Wales's early capitulation at home to Ireland last weekend, it seemed the Scarlets were intent on making a similarly sluggish start against their opponents from the Emerald Isle.
The match was barely 30 seconds old when Connacht opened the scoring with a smartly-executed try.
Visiting wing Fetu'u Vainikolo pounced on the Scarlets' hesitation from kick-off as he rose highest to claim the ball and power his way into the hosts' 22.
With the home side's defence shaken and out of position, Connacht fly-half Dan Parks then struck a perfectly weighted cross-kick for Danie Poolman to collect on the bounce and finish in the corner.
Most supporters were still making their way to their seats when Parks missed his conversion, though the initially muted Parc y Scarlets stirred a little when Owen Williams got the hosts' first points of the evening with a fourth-minute penalty.
The young fly-half added another three points a quarter of an hour later to edge the Scarlets 6-5 in front, prompting a period of pressure from Easterby's men.
Scrum-half Aled Davies made a couple of dangerous sniping runs, while his half-back partner Williams impressed with his smooth handling skills — but the Scarlets' initial good work was undone by some clumsy unforced errors.
Despite a prolonged period in Connacht's 22, the hosts left empty-handed and were left to rue their knock-ons and dropped passes when Parks regained the lead for Eric Elwood's side with a drop-goal.
That advantage was short-lived, however, as Williams stroked over his third penalty to make the score 9-8 to the Scarlets.
Connacht had an opportunity to end the half in the ascendancy, but Parks missed a penalty attempt from some 45 metres out.
It was an uncharacteristically wayward first 40 minutes from the former Scotland and Cardiff Blues fly-half, who wasted three kicks at goal before the interval.
Williams, on the other hand, continued to impress as he scored his fourth penalty of the evening to extend his side's lead to 12-8.
Buoyed by his pinpoint efforts, the 20-year-old boldly opted to kick at goal from the halfway line on the cusp of half-time but the ball fell just short of the posts.
That brought to a close an encouraging first half from the Scarlets' half-back pairing, even if the hosts failed to really fire as an entire team.
The second period began with a bang as Scarlets captain Rob McCusker felled Connacht back-rower Eoin McKeon with a bone-popping tackle which drew gasps from the crowd.
With 52 minutes gone, the home fans were celebrating what they thought was a try from replacement wing Gareth Maule, only for referee Matteo Liperini to rule that the ball had been held up.
Connacht's respite was only temporary, though, as the Scarlets pummelled the visitors' try line from the resultant scrum.
Their belligerent pressure paid dividends as holes began to appear in the Connacht defence, and Scarlets lock Joe Snyman exploited one such opening to barge his way over for a try.
Williams converted and then scored his fifth penalty moments later to make the Scarlets' lead a commanding 22-8.
Having left Connacht trailing in their wake, the Scarlets began to play with a little more fluency. Whereas they spent the first hour of the game kicking possession away, they now began to pass the ball with confidence and breeze through the phases.
The game was not disrupted by many stoppages but, from the few scrums that did occur, the Scarlets imposed their dominance.
Twice they won penalties from the set-piece and, when they were awarded the second of these with eight minutes left, Williams struck his sixth penalty to put the game beyond doubt.
At 25-8 the Scarlets were truly cruising, but they gave themselves cause for concern when they allowed Connacht's Mike Swift to cross for the away side's second try.
That score merely served to give the scoreline a gloss for the visitors, however, as the Scarlets eased to a first victory in the Pro12 since December.