Last-gasp Priestland penalty saves sloppy Scarlets in Italy
ZEBRE 16 SCARLETS 16
A 40-METRE penalty from Rhys Priestland with the last kick of the match saved the Scarlets' blushes against Italian strugglers Zebre at the Stadio XXV Aprile.
After the heroics of Europe, this was a woeful display from the West Wales region, who deserved little from an error-strewn performance.
Zebre dominated possession and territory and looked set to add the Scarlets' scalp to that of Cardiff Blues.
But with the clock ticking down inside the final minute, the Italians gave away a penalty while in possession and Wales fly-half Priestland – on as a second-half replacement – held his nerve with a superb strike to level the scores.
In the build-up to this clash, the Scarlets had stressed the need to translate their Heineken Cup form onto the Pro12 stage.
That was reflected in the selection of head coach Simon Easterby with six of the Scarlets’ Wales squad members named in the match-day 23.
However, the home side, spearheaded by their outstanding All Black scrum-half Brendon Leonard, were in no mood to take notice of the form book.
Fly-half Tommaso Iannone missed an early penalty and although fly-half Steve Shingler struck first for the Scarlets, the Italians were soon celebrating the game’s opening try.
It was a fine effort, with centre Gonzalo Garcia taking an inside pass in midfield, scything through and then having enough pace to outstrip the despairing cover.
Iannone converted and suddenly it was Zebre with their tails up.
With his side very much on the front foot, Iannone landed a penalty to extend the lead to seven points after 21 points.
The Scarlets were guilty of far too many errors, with the line-out – as it did against Racing Metro last weekend – misfiring badly.
But they did manage to respond on 28 minutes thanks to a counter-attacking try by scrum-half Gareth Davies, made by a defence-splitting run by wing Kristian Phillips.
It was a welcome score for the West Wales region with Shingler’s successful conversion levelling the scores.
A strong scrum drive and midfield surge by skipper Jonathan Davies then set up a penalty chance for Shingler, but the fly-half hit the outside of the post with his attempt.
It remained at 10-10 as the sides went in at half-time, although the Scarlets were grateful to a last-ditch tackle from full-back Liam Williams to thwart a dangerous blindside attack by the home three-quaters.
The second half continued in similar vein with Zebre enjoy most of the ball.
Easterby switched his half-backs on 47 minutes in a bid to inject some impetus, but his team were looking a shadow of the side which had made their mark in the Heineken Cup over the last fortnight.
As for Zebre, with just one Pro12 win to their name since their inception, they continued to dominate.
When the Scarlets infringed at a scrum five yards out, Iannone landed a penalty to make it 13-10 to the home side and the visitors had 16 minutes to save face.
Priestland responded with seven minutes remaining, but after the Scarlets failed to clear their lines they gifted a penalty to Zebre and replacement fly-half Luciano Orquera struck what the home fans thought was the winning kick.
But in the final minute with Zebre trying to run down the clock through their forwards, they were deemed to be holding onto the ball on the floor and it gave Priestland the chance to save his side from an embarrassing defeat.
SCARLETS: L. Williams; N. Reynolds, J. Davies (capt), S. Williams (repl G. Maule 50-59), K. Phillips; S. Shingler (repl R. Priestland 47), G. Davies (repl R. Williams 47); P. John (repl R. Evans 62), E. Phillips (repl K. Myhill 62), J. Adriaanse (repl H. Pungea 69), G. Earle, J. Snyman (repl J. Ball 69), A. Shingler, J. Turnbull (repl S. Timani 47), J. Barclay.
ZEBRE: R. Trevisan; L. Sarto, K. Ratuvou, G. Garcia, D. Berryman; T. Iannone (repl L. Orquera 70), B. Leonard; D. Chistolini (repl L. Leibson 66), D. Giazzone, S. Perugini (repl M. Agueri 51), M. Bortolami (capt), M. van Vuren, S. Vunisa, A. van Schalkwyk (repl F. Cristiano 22), M. Bergamasco (repl E. Caffini 41).
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)