Scarlets survive late drama to hold out for draw against French giants
By Robert Lloyd at Parc y Scarlets
SCARLETS head coach Simon Easterby said his overriding feeling was one of disappointment after his side were forced to settle for a 26-26 draw against Racing Metro in a dramatic Heineken Cup clash in Llanelli.
But he also admitted his side were lucky to escape with a share of the points in the dying minutes.
The Parisians had thought they had snatched it late on when flanker Wenceslas Lauret capitalised on a home error to touch down.
But the television match official spotted a knock-on in the build-up and the score was ruled out – much to the relief of the home fans and players.
It almost capped a remarkable second-half comeback by the French side, who had trailed 23-10 at one stage.
Tries by Scott and Rhodri Williams had put the Scarlets in apparent control at half-time, but Racing got their steamroller driving ball into top gear after the break and the Scarlets struggled to cope.
“Up until the 79th minute we were disappointed, but then we got lucky, we played into their hands a bit and were probably lucky not to come away with a loss,” said Easterby.
“We lost a line-out in their 22, they then went down the field, won a scrum and scored a try from it and that was a big swing in momentum.
“We have not helped ourselves, but there were a lot of positives to our game again. Our intent to play was excellent, our defence was great, there were lots of positives – the disappointing thing is that at 23-10 you would like to think we could close the game out.”
Despite having to settle for the draw, the Scarlets will finish the opening two rounds joint top of their pool – something they would have no doubt accepted at the start of the tournament.
The Scarlets had been looking to build on their thrilling opening round victory over Harlequins and backed by a vocal home support, had opportunities in the opening minutes to go in front, but Rhys Priestland – who didn’t miss a kick at goal at The Stoop – was off target with two kickable penalties.
A Racing counter-attack then took play deep into the home territory and from a defensive Scarlets scrum, the visitors were celebrating the game’s first try as openside flanker Lauret was quickest to the ball after the home pack had been disrupted on their own line.
Ireland fly-half Jonny Sexton, no stranger to the ground from his Leinster days, converted then added a penalty to silence the home fans.
Priestland finally got his radar in full working order with a long-range penalty after 18 minutes and it was the prompt for a big turnaround in fortunes.
Two minutes later the crowd were in full voice as the Scarlets turned defence into attack with a blistering score.
Crucially, they won a turnover at a breakdown inside their own 22 and Priestland was allowed to clear his lines.
The fly-half didn’t find the safety of touch, but the ball bounced back into the path of wing Nick Reynolds who did well to tap it back to his skipper Jonathan Davies.
The Lions centre sped clear and timed his inside pass to Scott Williams to perfection for the Wales international to cross for his second try in as many games.
Priestland converted and then suddenly it was Racing who were on the back foot giving away the penalties.
Finally, the patience of referee Neil Paterson cracked and he showed skipper Dimitri Szarzewski yellow for an accumulation of offences.
Priestland gave the Scarlets the lead for the first time, before Racing were reduced to 13 men when replacement centre Fabrice Estabanez was spotted punching Scott Williams off the ball.
Instead of opting for the easy three points, the Scarlets went to the corner and the decision paid dividends as scrum-half Rhodri Williams sniped over from five metres out.
The conversion was a simple one and the Scarlets headed in at half-time with the ground in fine voice and with a real spring in their step.
A Priestland penalty extended the advantage three minutes after the restart, but no sooner were Racing back up to their full complement again, then they were back in the match.
Sexton landed the penalty, then after the Scarlets messed up an attacking line-out, it was Racing’s turn to strike from deep.
Scrambling back, the home side were forced to concede a five-yard scrum and from it Fijian No. 8 Sakiusa Matadigo crossed.
Moments later Racing were level through the boot of Sexton and with an hour gone it was all to play for.
The two sides and the two international fly-halves, continued to exchange blows and with ten minutes remaining, there was nothing between them.
Then came the final drama.
Racing flanker Lauret thought he had touched down in the final play after the Scarlets had spilled possession, but the television match official spotted a knock-on earlier in the movement and the visitors were denied.
Racing players and coaches were still complaining and gesturing to the referee as he left the field and there was a sense of disappointment in both camps at the close.