Scarlets 39 Ulster 55
You see a scoreline like this and you think back to the days when exhibition games would be staged to open new clubhouses.
A clatter of Test players would be rounded up for the occasion and tries would flow, followed by lorry loads of pints.
Except that this is pro rugby and both sides have men whose reason for cashing the pay cheque every month is to stop the opposition scoring.
But while those lads will be asking searching questions the attack coaches will be purring happily. Ulster for example may well want to edit out the first 15 minutes and use it as a stand alone template for shape and speed.
It was played at a hundred miles an hour against a rush defence. The level of accuracy was remarkable.
If that sequence had taken place maybe 20 minutes later then it would have yielded more than the two tries – for Alan O’Connor and Marty Moore – for by the time that 15-minute period was up the Scarlets were blowing so hard they were looking for an oxygen tent instead of a water break.
In keeping with what unfolded into a bizarre game the home team then got a powerful second wind and worked their way into a 15-14 lead by 26 minutes. When’s the last time you saw a pro game serve up four tries in 21 minutes?
The conditions had a lot to do with it. Glorious sunshine, a dry sod – is there a better pitch anywhere than Parc y Scarlets? – and no wind.
Mercifully both sides used the opportunity to keep ball in hand. So box kicking was more niche than de rigeur, and given the counter-attacking threat of Mike Lowry, Aaron Sexton, who sadly didn’t last long, and the outstanding Jacob Stockdale it was high risk for Scarlets to be giving that trio any sort of ball.
Yet again however it was Stuart McCloskey who shot the lights out. He carried a load of ball, all of it done positively. And his decisions on when to offload and when to tuck and charge were all good. He is at the top of his game and a joy to watch.
All of which is good news for Dan McFarland. He now has John Cooney back on deck with his man of the match performance off the tee and with ball in hand.
It was interesting to see too how he coped with a blip of back-to-back mistakes in the second half when Scarlets were mounting their second serious comeback of the game. The scrumhalf just took about 20 seconds out to stop and retie his laces, catch his breath, and then restore business as usual.
He sickened the home fans, a chunk of whom left early. Their team are winless after two games, conceding points at a frightening rate, but mitigating it with their ability in the bonus points department. Ulster meantime have two bonus point wins under their belts and are in a flow state.
What a good time for Leinster then to be coming to Ravenhill. Both are affected by call ups for the Bloemfontein Adventure but both have enough on hand to make it a game to sell the place out. It will be interesting to see what back-row McFarland puts together. In the interest of better handling he could consider giving Matty Rea a rest.
Scorers - Scarlets: D Hughes 2 tries; J Davies, C Baldwin, V Fifita try each; S Costelow pen, 3 cons; R Patchell pen, con. Ulster: J Cooney 2 tries, 2 pen, 7 cons; A O’Connor, M Moore, Marcus Rea, B Burns, T O’Toole try each.
Scarlets: I Nicholas (R Patchell h-t); C Baldwin, J Davies (capt), J Williams, R Conbeer; S Costelow (yc 33-43; D Jones 60), G Davies (K Hardy 51); S Thomas, R Elias (D Hughes 46), J Sebastian (H O’Connor 65); V Fifita, S Lousi; B Thomson (T Price 51), S Kalamafoni, J Macleod (L Giannini 75).
Ulster: M Lowry; A Sexton (C Gilroy 20), L Marshall (A Curtis 55), S McCloskey, J Stockdale; B Burns, J Cooney; A Warwick (E O’Sullivan 47), R Herring, M Moore (T O’Toole 23); A O’Connor (capt), K Treadwell (S Carter 55), Matty Rea, N Timoney, Marcus Rea (S Refell 55); D Moore 69.
Referee: AJ Jacobs (SA).