This week, Sam Larner indulges himself by thoroughly dissecting the opening try in the Scarlets’ away victory against Bath on Friday night.
In just over 43 seconds, that’s just a shade more than it takes men’s 400m world record holder Wayde van Niekerk to complete a lap of the track, the Scarlets went the full length of the pitch to score one of the finest tries in recent Champions Cup memory. The ball was touched by ten players as it was moved back and forth and eventually into the arms of Tadhg Beirne for an exceptional finishing step. So, how do you score a length of the field try and what does it say about the Scarlets’ attacking endeavour?
It’s the perfect start from turnover ball, two passes. This moves the point of attack immediately and stretches the wide Bath defence. It would be tempting for David Bulbring, who receives the pass from Rhys Patchell, to just put his head down and run at the wall of defenders in front of him, but he knows the threat is out wide and he holds onto the ball just long enough to attract Jonathan Joseph before delivering the pass out wide to Hadleigh Parkes.
When Parkes gets the ball, he has Ben Tapuai in front of him looking to defend the outside and Joseph charging across to try and cover the inside. Neither Luke Charteris or Beno Obano can do anything to get across in support and it’s too much for Joseph to do, when Parkes straightens up he’s through the gap. Scott Williams knows that Tapuai is covering the outside but there’s no more support after Joseph on the inside so he switches his support run to the inside and is there when Parkes is brought down.
Watch Gareth Davies, especially if you’re a young scrum-half, until just before the halfway line he spends the entire play ahead of the ball. He’s not following the ball, he’s running to the spot that he thinks it will be, that means that when Scott Williams breaks through he has support options on either side thanks to Davies and winger, Paul Asquith.
Asquith gets brought down on the far side of the pitch, but instead of getting sucked into the ruck, James Davies just hangs back and grabs the offload from the floor, he then immediately ships it to Bulbring – remember him from all the way back in the Scarlets 22? This might not look that impressive but the West Walians are constantly adjusting the point of attack here. If Asquith hits the ground then James Davies goes over and Bulbring probably follows, Gareth Davies is on the other side of the pitch so the ball gets slowed right down and Bath can most likely regroup. Because of the Asquith pass and Davies hands, the Scarlets attack keeps going forward rather than stalling.
If the try wasn’t scored, this phase would go down as a big chance lost. When the break went on the far side of the pitch, every one of the Bath defenders who could follow were dragged towards the breakdown. That means that the quicker players were on the far side and the slower forwards were in the midfield, this is prime attacking ground.
On a different day, fly-half Dan Jones may have fancied his chances between a tired Joseph and Obano in the defensive line but he decides to go wide. Winger Tom Prydie might also have a chance if Parkes can release him but Bath’s Elliott Stooke does very well to get up quickly and cut that option down, the West Country side are looking in real danger if the ball gets on the outside of Stooke.
One of the key advantages of using hard running forwards in front of the playmakers is that it means you have a ready made ruck as long as you get to your front runners. Both Ken Owens and Samson Lee secure the ball without any competition thanks to their positioning ahead of play.
Beirne plays scrum-half here, if he doesn’t then he’s a pointless addition to the ruck but it doesn’t look initially like it works. The lock is slow distributing the ball and is almost caught in possession by Obano. More from luck than judgment, this benefits the Scarlets because Bath’s wide defenders have time to think and time to lose their structure. When Jones has to deal with a difficult pass, Tapuai eyes light up and rushes out. Jones gets the ball to Aaron Shingler who has a massive seam to run at with Charteris more focused on the outside. The flanker is brought down by a sensational covering tackle from Chris Cook with some help from Charteris.
One other important fact is that Anthony Watson has to come into the line for support, more on that in the next description.
It’s played off the floor again, again to Bulbring who is just popping up everywhere. He flips it to Asquith who takes it to the line and immediately fixes two defenders. Stooke tries to step in the same river twice and comes out of the line to stop the ball from going wide. Unfortunately for the lock, the threat is right through the middle and Beirne ignores him and takes the offload to crash through the line. Because Watson was pulled over to the far side of the pitch he has to chase across the pitch which makes it a little easier for the Irish lock to step around him. It’s a sensational finish to a fantastic try and although it’s what will be remembered, this was a try made by the whole team.
That try, as good as it was, is just one small part of the reason why the Scarlets stand on the threshold of the Champions Cup knock out rounds. However, it says a huge amount about how they may choose to face Toulon on Saturday. The Welsh team were blown away by the physicality of the French giants during the first half of their round one game, but that hasn’t been as much of a problem of late. The Scarlets have been able to hold their own in an arm wrestle and continue to add their classic sparkle in the loose. If they can ensure that Toulon don’t build a dominate platform then the West Walians should have fun moving the lumpy French pack around the pitch – it should be a cracker.