Pat Lam: We have only ourselves to blame for last-gasp agony
Scarlets 21 Connacht 19
Published 11/01/2016 | 02:30
Connacht head coach Pat Lam says his players only have themselves to blame for allowing Steven Shingler to shoot down their charge to the top of the Pro12 table.
It looked to all as if the Westerners had claimed a first-ever win at Parc y Scarlets when Jack Carty fired his men 19-18 ahead with a penalty three minutes from time.
But with just 20 seconds remaining, Ronan Loughney illegally cleared out Aaron Shingler at a ruck, and his brother Steven made no mistake from the tee to send the Scarlets back to the top of the table.
Earlier, Matt Healy dropped a hint to Joe Schmidt with a virtuoso display. The flying wing was unaffected by the soggy conditions as he streaked 80 metres to touch down and put Connacht in a good position at half-time, leading 10-3.
But the visitors opened the door for a Scarlets comeback, and tries from Steff Evans and Michael Collins put the Welsh side back in front before the grandstand finish.
Connacht will be lamenting of what could have been as they slipped to fourth, and Lam bemoaned his side's lack of cutting edge.
He said: "There is a lot of frustration; that was a huge blow for the boys, who consistently put effort in," he said.
"We played some good rugby and I thought we got it at the end there, but unfortunately we didn't, even though we had enough chances to win the game.
"To get ahead with three minutes to go and throw it away at the end is gutting for everyone.
"We should have been out of sight by half-time with the opportunities we had. We spoke at half-time and said their was no point in blaming calls from the referee, we had to get out there and continue with our game-plan.
"We gave some stupid penalties away and all of a sudden it was 10-6, and we've only got ourselves to blame for those.
"The tight TMO calls will go through the referees' assessor like last week, but I'm proud of the guys, they hung in there as the rain came down.
"We were 18-13 down and we grafted it back to get ahead, but it came down to a silly penalty again and we only had ourselves to blame for that."
Connacht had been out to join provincial rivals Leinster at the top of the Pro12, but their bid was dealt a blow after nine minutes when Bundee Aki bundled into Kiwi counterpart Regan King off the ball and was sent to the sin-bin for 10 minutes.
Despite being a man down, Lam's side found their rhythm, and were harshly denied a score after 17 minutes.
A tackle from Scarlets lock Tom Price stopped John Muldoon just short, before the ball spilled out of the ruck into the in-goal area.
Wales prop Rob Evans did not fall on the ball quick enough and Eoghan Masterson stole in to touch down, but referee Marius Mitrea ruled that the No 8 had not grounded the ball.
But a five-minute blitz gave Connacht a huge chance to take the points back to Galway.
First Craig Ronaldson landed a penalty after King saw yellow for failing to roll away, before a lightning counter-attack saw the men in green cross for their first try.
Evans gifted the ball back to the visitors deep inside the Connacht 22, and the ball was moved to Aki, who committed Steff Evans to the tackle and released Healy, and the flying winger left the cover defence in his tracks to race 80 metres to score. Ronaldson converted for a 10-point lead.
Aled Thomas notched a penalty in reply, and there was still time in the first half for a second disallowed try.
Steff Evans was at fault again as the Ireland hopeful Healey used his footwork to race in at the corner, but Hadleigh Parkes did just enough to prevent him from getting his brace.
Whatever was said in the Scarlets changing room at half-time had an immediate effect as the Welsh side snatched their lead back in six second-half minutes.
Thomas landed a second penalty, before full-back Michael Collins chased his own clearing kick and charged down the return to put the hosts on the front foot.
Parkes burrowed down the middle before the ball was swung wide for wing Evans to slide in at the corner.
But Connacht found themselves level again straight from kick-off. The Scarlets went offside after the restart and Ronaldson found the target again to draw the scores level at 13-13.
Connacht had a third try ruled out when DTH van der Merwe beat Ronaldson to a loose ball in-goal, before the hosts landed a huge blow. Replacement scrum-half Rhodri Williams delivered a perfectly timed pass to King, who burst through the middle and fed Collins, who stretched over.
Connacht's fight for a play-off place received a major boost with three minutes go when the Scarlets strayed offside on their own 10 metre line. Carty stepped up and slotted the penalty to give Lam's men a 19-18 advantage but it was snatched away from them at the death.
Loughney tipped Aaron Shingler onto his neck at a ruck just outside the 22, on the right, and the penalty broke Connacht hearts.
Scarlets - M Collins; S Evans, R King (S Hughes 67), H Parkes, DTH van der Merwe; A Thomas (S Shingler 72), A Davies (R Williams 54); R Evans, K Owens (capt), S Lee (R Jones 76), T Price, L Rawlins (M Paulino 72), A Shingler, J Barclay, M Allen.
Connacht - T O'Halloran; N Adeolokun, B Aki, C Ronaldson (R Perata 63), M Healy; J Carty, K Marmion (I Porter 76); F Bealham (R Loughney 67), T McCartney (D Heffernan 68), N White (R Ah You 67), U Dillane, A Browne (A Muldowney 9), J Muldoon (capt), J Heenan (S O'Brien 68), E Masterson.
Ref - M Mitrea (ITA)