Scarlets in rude health
Scarlets, the region that crept into the Heineken Cup through the back door, yesterday gave notice that they intend to stick around and play some attractive rugby by taking one of the French giants apart with four tries in 14 minutes either side of half-time.
Perpignan, home to James Hook for the next two years if you believe their president, Paul Goze, do not travel well -- they have lost their past three Heineken Cup games on the road, the same number of defeats as in 15 years at home. But they arrived with intent, scored the first two tries and the last three and had Scarlets groggy in the first quarter before two tries in three minutes from the full-back Rhys Priestland and a yellow card swung things around.
Scarlets, semi-finalists in 2007 but also-rans ever since, only got into the competition because Cardiff Blues won the Challenge Cup, but immediately showed their intent. Rob McCusker almost scoring after a neat break by Martin Roberts in the opening minutes. He ran out of legs but did enough to win the penalty, which put Scarlets in the lead, only for them to lose it three minutes later when David Marty's long pass put his fellow centre Jean-Philippe Grandclaude over in the corner.
Stephen Jones edged Scarlets back in front with his second penalty, but the visitors were showing unaccustomed adventure for ones normally so unhappy away from home and when scum-half Florian Cazenave pilfered the ball on his own 22, a path to the Scarlets' try line opened up and wing Julien Candelon took it.
Jerome Porical converted, but 11 minutes later it was the full-back's departure for the sin bin which brought about one of those mood changes that so often used to hit French sides. Once Porical had been caught using his boot, Scarlets began to play and from three points down zipped into a 14-point lead by half-time, their full-back Priestland going over twice in three minutes.
First Sean Lamont and McCusker went down the right to create the space in the middle when Jones switched play that way, then the centres Regan King and Gareth Maule set the full-back up in the right corner with a couple of back-handed passes. Perpignan changed their half-backs, but not their luck, at half-time, with King successfully chasing his own hack ahead and then Matthew Rees brushing aside three limp tackles to give Jones his 50th try for Scarlets and the bonus point.
From 40-15 down six minutes into the second half, there should have been no way back but tries by Adrien Plante, the replacement Ovidiu Tonita, and the back-row Damien Chouly stopped Scarlets getting too complacent.
Scorers -- Scarlets: Jones try, 5 pen, 4 con; Priestland 2 tries; King try; Perpignan: Porical 3 con, pen, Grandclaude, Candelon, Plante, Tonita, Chouly try
Scarlets: R Priestland; M Stoddart, G Maule (S Williams 49), R King (D Evans 76), S Lamont; S Jones, M Roberts; D Lyons, J Turnbull, R McCusker, V Cooper (J Fa'amatuainu 67), L Reed, R Thomas, M Rees (K Owens 72), I Thomas (P John 73)
Perpignan: J Porical; A Plante (D Michel 70), D Marty, JP Grandclaude (M Edmonds 41), J Candelon; G Hume, F Cazenave (D Mele 40); D Chouly, G Britz (O Tonita 58), B Guiry, R Tchale Watchou,Y Vivalda (G Vilaceca 48), N Mas (K Pulu 70), C Geli (M Tincu 62) , P Freshwater (J Schuster 61)
Referee -- A Small (Eng).