Friday 22 November 2019

Welsh sweat on Priestland as Exeter make mark


Mike Averis at Parc y Scarlets

Exeter headed back across the Severn Bridge, their first try and their first Heineken Cup win in the bag, but only after surviving a nervy final 14 minutes – 10 of them with seven forwards – after the French referee Mathieu Raynal completed a busy afternoon by sending replacement prop Ben Moon to the sin-bin and awarding a penalty try.

For Scarlets and Wales it was a difficult afternoon; the club because it could not hang on to the ball long enough to do any real damage and the nation because its first-choice outhalf Rhys Priestland left the field on a stretcher with the Six Nations less than two months away.

The Scarlets coach Simon Easterby said Priestland would go for a scan on his Achilles tendon, but admitted: "It didn't look good." Easterby made a similar judgment on another Wales squad member Aaron Shingler, who departed with a groin injury.

Priestland was injured eight minutes into the second half of a game that was scrappy and shapeless and looked to have been settled by the boot of Gareth Steenson, with six kicks from six, before Raynal added his final flourish. Both sides needed a bonus-point victory to retain hope of making the knock-out stages.

Having sampled the harsh reality of life in the Heineken at the hands of Leinster, when they were unlucky not to get a draw in Dublin, and Clermont Auvergne, Exeter looked for better across the Bristol Channel, even if the Scarlets were welcoming back six of their internationals. At the home of a side that had lost five of its last six matches in the competition, the Chiefs got their success.

Richard Kelly claimed Priestland's kick-off, but any hope of sustained Scarlets pressure was undone by the kind of poor handling that was to mire their afternoon and the considerable frame of Sireli Naqelevuki. Having made the dent, the 19st Fijian offloaded to Luke Arscott, the full-back getting to within 10 metres before Haydn Thomas completed the job and more or less his afternoon's work, as he limped off nine minutes later.

By then Steenson, who converted Thomas's try and Priestland had exchanged penalties and the battle lines were being drawn with flashes of Welsh adventure being met by Devon beef – with a picky French referee and a wireless malfunction.

The delay caused in fixing the problem angered the faithful almost as much as the time Steenson took in converting his second penalty. However, Raynal redressed the balance with a series of penalties and free-kicks from which Priestland reduced the lead to seven points with a penalty from wide out on the left. But, as was the way for much of the first half, what Raynal gave with one blast of the whistle, so he took away with the next and the gap was back up to 10 points by the interval.

The second half started in similar fashion, with neither side able to hang on to the ball, but this time the half-back to go was Priestland, who stumbled into a tackle and left on a stretcher. Steenson stretched the lead with his fourth penalty, while Aled Thomas, on for Priestland, got another back for the Scarlets only for the Exeter outhalf to step up for his fifth. There was then a stern lecture for Gonzalo Camacho for killing the ball and when the Exeter scrum went down a minute later Raynal reached into his pocket and Moon headed for the sin-bin.

Scorers – Scarlets: penalty try; Priestland 2 pens; Thomas pen, con.

Exeter: Thomas try; Steenson 5 pens, con.

Scarlets: Newton; L Williams, J Davies, S Williams, Fenby; Priestland (Thomas 48), A Davies (Knoyle 59); John (Hopkins 76), Rees (Owens 50), Lee (Adriaanse 12); Earle (Timani 50), Kelly; Shingler (Snyman 63), Murphy, J Edwards. Exeter: Arscott; Camacho, Naqelevuki (Mumm 53), Shoemark (Muldowney 72), Jess; Steenson, Thomas (Barrett 11); Sturgess (Moon 56), Alcott (Clark 53), Tui (Rimmer 56); Hayes, Welch (Whitten 53); Johnson (Mieres 72), Scaysbrook, Baxter.

Referee: M Raynal (France).

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