Lam raps referee over late penalty call
Scarlets 32 Connacht 30
Published 31/03/2014 | 02:30
Connacht's winning streak ended at four, but a brave late fightback yielded two bonus points which may yet prove valuable in the chase for a top-six Pro12 finish.
Having trailed 25-6, the visitors rallied as Kieran Marmion, Fionn Carr, Robbie Henshaw and Eoin McKeon all crossed, with Dan Parks and Miah Nikora kicking the rest of their points.
But the Scarlets moved seven points clear of their opponents in the battle for probable European qualification thanks to a bonus-point of their own through tries from Jonathan Davies, Gareth Davies, Josh Turnbull and Gareth Maule, with Rhys Priestland adding a dozen points from the tee.
Connacht coach Pat Lam insists the battle to remain at European club rugby's top table is not over, but was disappointed his side were not given a kick to win the game by referee Neil Paterson, when trailing by just two points with three minutes left.
"We are gutted," Lam said. "We showed real character, we worked so hard, but that call at 25-23 was a big one.
"Kieran Marmion was tackled, clearly Liam Williams played the ball and had not released him, but the penalty went the other way. I was astounded and it's frustrating, we have had some hard calls from officials.
"They went down our end and scored a try, but we showed tremendous heart at the death. We have to keep going try and finish as high as we can and it's never over until the fat lady sings."
Connacht could hardly have made a worse start as a quick tap caught them off guard. Priestland and Jonathan Davies found Jordan Williams out wide and the winger drew the final cover to give Lions centre Davies an easy finish inside two minutes. Priestland added the extras.
Lam's side responded with two Parks penalties either side of a Priestland miss. However, the Wales No 10 was on target from distance when Connacht skipper John Muldoon was penalised for holding on.
The game had looked beyond the province when their hosts scored two tries from Gareth Davies and Turnbull in quick succession during the third quarter.
Connacht hit back through Welsh-born Marmion, who took a quick penalty to dot down at the end of a period of sustained pressure.
It teed up a chaotic finale including four tries in eight minutes. Replacement Nikora's cross-kick gave Carr an easy finish and when Henshaw crossed in the corner a comeback looked on.
However, following the penalty call which so upset Lam, Maule reached out to score the hosts' fourth try under the posts with less than 90 seconds left, only for McKeon to finish Henshaw's break and go behind the sticks to ensure the visitors did not leave empty-handed.
"We played some good stuff, but kept allowing Connacht back in the game," said Scarlets' boss Simon Easterby. "They are a good side, but we coughed up a couple of soft tries to make it tight."
Scarlets – L Williams; K Phillips, J Davies (capt), O Barkley (G Maule 67), J Williams; R Priestland, G Davies (R Williams 55); P John (R Evans 55), K Owens (E Phillips 55), R Jones (H Pungea 73); J Ball (R Kelly 41), J Snyman; J Turnbull, J Barclay (L Rawlins 77), S Timani.
Connacht – R Henshaw; T O'Halloran (D Leader 69), E Griffin, D McSharry, F Carr; D Parks (M Nikora 65), K Marmion; D Buckley, J Harris-Wright (D Heffernan 53), R Ah You (N White 47); A Muldowney, M Kearney (M Swift 50); J Muldoon (capt), E Masterson (A Browne 53, R Loughney 63), E McKeon.
Ref – N Paterson (Scotland)