FINALLY a game and a famous win to grace Llanelli Scarlets' glistening new Parc y Scarlets, the sort of rip-roaring comeback and victory the fans will fondly remember for decades and help them look more fondly on their new home.
London Irish, focused and predatory for the first 50 minutes, will not see it like that but they have only themselves to blame. Leading 22-10 with half an hour left on the clock the game appeared to be theirs, with ample time to gain a fourth try and claim an invaluable bonus point. They even turned down a simple penalty shot for that very reason, a decision which even at the time seemed a little premature, two converted tries surely has to be the minimum margin in such circumstances.
Minds were wandering and the Exiles soon started to lose control and composure against a Llanelli side that had already battled hard and possessed the passion and hunger.
Powerful flanker Rob McCusker was the catalyst crossing twice in five minutes, the first a storming effort from 40-yards out, to turn the game around and get the crowd roaring. Suddenly Irish were wobbling badly.
Two points behind and with replacement Chris Malone on for a dropped-goal attempt, the Exiles could yet have prevailed but still they were in denial. They played the Barbarian-style rugby which served them well in the opening exchanges and made no attempt to work a shot at goal for the reliable Malone. Thoughts of a bonus point needed to be jettisoned, it was a simple win that mattered, not a fourth try.
Even worse was to follow. Llanelli mounted one final attack and young centre Jonathan Davies, another star performer on the day for this developing Scarlets side, stole over for the killer score under the posts, his second of the match.
London Irish therefore trekked back up the motorway last night without even the consolation of a losing bonus point. They must now beat the Heineken Cup holders, Leinster, at Twickenham on Saturday night and claim a bonus point while denying their opponents one to qualify for the quarter-finals as pool winners. A big task by any criteria.
"I thought we were a bit flattered by the 22-10 scoreline and in our push for the bonus point we put ourselves under pressure, we were guilty of not earning the right to go wide when we did," said coach Toby Booth. "The way we play there is always a price to pay, the margins are very tight. When we are at our best those margins go in our favour.
"The good thing about this team is that we like uphill challenges and Leinster will certainly be that. All we can do is give us the best opportunity we can and try and heal some of the scars from today."
It had all seemed so different in the first half when the Exiles -- in a positive and aggressive frame of mind for which they deserve credit -- played at a tempo which left the Scarlets hanging on for dear life.
Tom Homer crossed after a superbly crafted try, David Paice battered his way following good work from Chris Hala'Ufia and the Tongan was again in the mix soon after the break when he scored an almost comical try after the Scarlets defence had frozen as one and let Peter Hewat's high kick bounce unchallenged.
Booth was right though, Irish were living on a knife edge and conceding a lot of penalties in the process. Had Rhys Priestland, who enjoyed an otherwise impressive all-round game, found his range from the off the Scarlets would have been level. It was a lead built on smoke and mirrors and eventually the magic ran out. (© Daily Telegraph, London)