Tadhg Beirne to fore for Scarlets as Connacht suffer another loss
Scarlets 36 Connacht 27
Connacht suffered their fourth loss of the Guinness PRO14 season as they went down to Scarlets in a nine-try thriller in Llanelli.
New coach Kieran Keane has had a rocky start to his time in charge, but here, albeit in defeat, Connacht showed signs of real promise.
Keane’s men were outscored five tries to four and could well have come out on top only for a series of basic errors to undermine them in a tight second half.
Jack Carty and Cian Kelleher scored and the excellent Tiernan O’Halloran crossed in both halves.
Carty missed with the conversion of O’Halloran’s second try which would have tied the game, and Scarlets went up the other end to seal victory through Irish hopeful Tadhg Beirne.
Johnny McNicholl, man of the match Steffan Evans, Rhys Patchell and Leigh Halfpenny had scored earlier for the home side before Beirne eventually sealed the victory.
Fresh from their disappointing home defeat to Cardiff Blues, a trip to last season’s PRO12 champions was hardly the ideal challenge for Keane’s men.
But in a remarkable first half which saw seven tries scored, Connacht gave as good as they got.
The Galway outfit had the worst possible start, falling behind inside nine minutes.
Jonathan Davies scorched clear and the British & Irish Lions man of the series popped up for McNicholl to score beneath the posts. Halfpenny added the simple conversion.
Connacht hit back straight away, Carty picking up a poor pass from Scott Williams and making his way to the line.
Out-half Carty converted his own effort and after Halfpenny missed with a penalty attempt, Wales prospect Evans scorched clear from 40 metres in fine style for a score which Connacht should have prevented.
Halfpenny put the kick wide and with home prop Rob Evans forced off for a HIA after colliding with his own man, Connacht promptly won a scrum penalty, which Carty kicked.
The see-saw nature of the first period continued. The impressive Evans passed out of the tackle to give Patchell an easy finish – the ball did look forward – but TMO Sean Brickell gave the try.
Halfpenny nailed the kick, but that only saw Connacht respond once again.
Tom Farrell’s break created the space for the excellent O’Halloran to finish and another flowing team move started by No 8 Eoin McKeon ended with Kelleher scoring in the right corner.
Carty kicked one conversion, but the half ended with Evans putting Halfpenny over for the Scarlets’ bonus-point try which the Lions star converted.
A breathless first half ended with Connacht still in the game at 26-22 down and the second period, while end-to-end, was tighter. Darragh Leader put a monster penalty effort wide and Keane introduced forward replacements in search of fresh legs.
But basic mistakes undermined Connacht and Halfpenny’s first penalty of the day gave the home side some comfort. Still, Connacht refused to go away.
McKeon set up O’Halloran again but when Carty couldn’t level the scores, Beirne broke the hearts of his home country to seal a home win.
Scarlets – Halfpenny; McNicholl (Prydie 70), J Davies, Williams, S Evans; Patchell (Asquith 64), A Davies (J Evans 55); R Evans (D Evans 21), Owens (capt) (Phillips 64), Kruger (Gardiner 72), Ball, Bulbring (Rawlins 53), Shingler, Boyde (Beirne 41), Macleod.
Connacht – Leader (Griffin 53); Kelleher, Aki, Farrell, O’Halloran; Carty, Blade (Marmion 53); Buckley (Coulson 66), McCartney (capt) (Delahunt 71), Carey (Bealham 59), Dillane (Thornbury 59), Roux, Heenan (Masterson 80), Butler, McKeon.
REF – Nigel Owens (WRU).