Sharks' bite proves too strong for Scarlets
FOUR years ago the Scarlets heralded the signing of All Black Daniel Braid only for the deal to fall through after the all-action flanker suffered a serious Achilles injury.
On Saturday, at the Salford City Stadium, the New Zealander came back to haunt the West Walians with a man-of-the-match display for his new club Sale Sharks in the LV= Cup.
With gun-dog instincts at the breakdown, strong in the tackle and an ever-present link in attack, Braid is a player who could walk into most sides in Europe.
And how the Scarlets must wish they had the resources to pull in an All Black mid-term to pep up their season like the relegation-threatened Sharks have done.
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Simon Easterby's side headed to the North West for this Anglo-Welsh tie missing a staggering 26 players because of a combination of international commitments, injury and much-needed rest.
In contrast, Sale director of rugby Steve Diamond opted to go loaded with Test experience as the Sharks look to the competition to salvage a season that is teetering above the Aviva Premiership trapdoor.
A week earlier, they had rested their star names for the final Heineken Cup pool match against the Blues.
Against the Scarlets, in this so-called development tournament, they were back in force.
As well as Braid, the Sharks fielded former Scarlets favourite Dwayne Peel, England's Danny Cipriani, Scotland's Richie Vernon, Ireland's Tony Buckley, Australia's Cameron Shepherd and another All Black in wrecking ball centre Sam Tuitupou.
And ultimately, that experience told.
The Scarlets had started brightly with wing Andy Fenby capitalising on hesitation between Peel and Cipriani by hacking through a loose ball and collecting to touch down at the posts after four minutes.
The visitors, showing plenty of enterprise in their game, had gone further ahead when 20-year-old fly-half Owen Williams — making only his second Scarlets start — fielded his own high kick before feeding half-back partner Gareth Davies to twist over in the corner.
But after that it was all about Sale's dominance of territory and possession, coupled with Scarlets indiscipline that saw the half-time penalty count rise to 9-1 in the home side's favour.
With Cipriani gnawing away at the lead with three penalty successes, the sin-binning of lock Jake Ball saw Sale level with Vernon touching down from a forward drive.
Then in the last movement of the half, wing Charlie Amesbury dived over in the corner to put the Sharks 21-14 up at the break.
A Williams penalty reduced the arrears to four points on 49 minutes, but that was as good as it got for Easterby's men.
Prop Rhodri Jones became the second to see yellow, harshly treated by referee Ian Tempest who adjudged the Wales cap hadn't rolled away at a ruck.
That allowed Cipriani to canter through a gaping hole in the Scarlets defence and with the visitors tiring, replacement Charlie Ingall stretched over for the home's side's bonus-point try three minutes from time.
It sealed an eighth defeat in nine matches for the Scarlets, but there was still a number of positives for Easterby to take back with him down the M6.
The versatile Gareth Owen produced some classy touches from full-back, Williams provided further evidence of his potential in the No. 10 jersey, while Ball led the defensive effort with some thumping hits.
"We didn't build on a good first half," admitted Easterby.
"We went in at half-time feeling we had the measure of them, but we lost a little bit of composure in the second half, we also lost the territory battle and with it the game went away from us and we couldn't get ourselves back into it.
"The penalty count didn't make life any easier. We felt one of the sin-binnings wasn't warranted, but on the balance of it we gave away too many penalties.
"We are not a million miles away, but at the moment we are making things hard for ourselves.
"I thought some of the youngsters who came in played really well and we will take a lot of positives from that first half in particular.
"What we need to do now is show character and we need guys who are willing to put their bodies on the line.
"Leicester are coming to Parc y Scarlets on Sunday and hopefully we can get the win we need to build some momentum into a very important period of Pro12 matches."