Scarlets fade against spirited Harlequins

Date published: October 11 2008

The Scarlets butchered a golden opportunity to end their long and illustrious Heineken Cup history at Stradey Park with a win, letting a 19-3 half-time lead slip as Harlequins hit back to win 29-22.

The Scarlets butchered a golden opportunity to end their long and illustrious Heineken Cup history at Stradey Park with a win, letting a 19-3 half-time lead slip as Harlequins hit back to win 29-22.

If ever there was an example of a game of two halves, this was it. Having led 19-3 at half time, playing some delightful rugby, the Scarlets produced a shocking second half display that saw a resurgent Harlequins, bolstered by an inspired triple substitution, snatch the unlikeliest of wins.

The Scarlets made the dream start, and given Quins' lack of effort in defence, looked like they could go on to record a comfortable win to bring down the curtain on Heineken Cup rugby at Stradey Park. Alas it was not to be.

A sweeping move saw Stephen Jones free Morgan Stoddart out wide, and the young full-back broke the first tackle before making a mug of Mike Brown. The Quins full-back looked to have his opposite man covered, but Stoddart's pace on the outside was too good for the England man.

That score gave the Scarlets an early boost, and but for a Stoddart knock-on it would have been an even better start – Regan King's pass not quite sticking with the Quins defence nowhere to be seen. Quins failed to take advantage of the reprieve though, feeding at the scrum costing them a free-kick, which in turn cost them another try.

Simon Easterby opted for the scrum and a simple backs move sent Mark Jones sliding in out wide, with Quins' defence once again AWOL. Once again Quins' penchant for gifting opponents easy points this season cost them dear, and no doubt had Dean Richards a little uneasy in his seat.

Having been at the heart of all that was good about the Scarlets' opening fourteen minutes, Stoddart gave Malone a simple three points, having held on for far too long on his own 22. If Richards thought that penalty would settle his side, he was sorely mistaken, as once again the Scarlets cut free.

A turnover on the half way should have resulted in a third try, but Sililo Martens was guilty of holding onto the ball, and drifting across the field, before sending it wide. All that meant Gonzalo Tiesi had time to cover for his sleeping teammates and save a certain five points with a great last-ditch tackle.

Stephen Jones' penalty after twenty-four minutes went some way to make amends for Martens' earlier lack of vision, although there was no excuse for such wasteful play. Scarlets, who looked like the side of old, soon had another chance to pull away, but once again the wrong option cost them a certain try.

King's delayed pass sent Gavin Evans into a gaping hole, and having turned Brown inside out he failed to see three support runners out to the left, using King on the right and in doing so brought the move to an end. Luckily for him Jones was again on hand to make amends with a penalty thirty seconds later as a rattled Quins were guilty of hands in the ruck.

For a second time in the half Quins were grateful to a last-ditch cover tackle, from Brown this time, as Darren Daniel was hauled down a metre short of the line. Jones' clearance kick sat up and allowed Daniel the time to steam onto it, and but for Brown's superb tackle he would have sent Stradey into raptures.

Still, the Scarlets faithful were not to be completely disappointed as Jones sent his side into the break with another three points. As the Scarlets trotted towards the sheds with a spring in their step, Quins were all but sleepwalking towards a very rude awakening from an understandably furious Richards.

The opening exchanges of the second half were messy, at best, as Malone clipped the lead through two quick-fire penalties, only to see Jones notch a penalty of his own after fifty minutes. Clearly unimpressed with what he was seeing Richards instantly sent on three new forwards, including England's Nick Easter, in an effort to swing the game back towards the visitors.

The effect was almost instant, as Quins finally got some momentum into their game and began to look like a side worthy of Heineken Cup rugby. Easter was heavily involved, carrying hard and direct, and when Danny Care took a quick penalty it was the Scarlets' turn to be caught napping as the wily scrum-half barged his way over.

Things got worse for the Scarlets moments later as Easter once again broke through, and the resulting attack led to Matthew Rees' yellow card. What will have frustrated the Scarlets was that the attack had fizzled out with a forward pass, yet Rees' spear tackle on Tani Fuga gifted Quins three points and a one-man advantage for ten minutes.

Quins, with the bit between their teeth, had the Scarlets on the ropes, and eventually the pressure told. Easter and Fuga did the damage up front before Malone's deft chip was gathered by Ugo Monye, and the England wing had far too much pace. Suddenly, having trailed 19-3 at half time, Quins were in the lead and the Scarlets, who had looked so dangerous early on, were fading fast.

Indeed they had no answer to Quins' fightback, and Malone sealed the victory with the last kick of the game, notching his fifth penalty of the game.

The Scorers:

For Scarlets:
Tries: Stoddart, M.Jones
Pens: S.Jones 4

For Harlequins:
Tries: Care, Monye
Cons: Malone 2
Pens: Malone 5

Yellow card: Rees (Scarlets – 58th minute, spear tackle)

The Teams:

Scarlets: 15 Morgan Stoddart, 14 Darren Daniel, 13 Regan King, 12 Gavin Evans, 11 Mark Jones, 10 Stephen Jones, 9 Sililo Martens, 8 David Lyons, 7 Gavin Thomas, 6 Simon Easterby (c), 5 Simon Maling, 4 Vernon Cooper, 3 Kees Meeuws, 2 Matthew Rees, 1 Iestyn Thomas.
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Phil John, 18 Scott MacLeod, 19 Nathan Thomas, 20 Martin Roberts, 21 Ceiron Thomas, 22 Rob Higgitt.

Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Charlie Amesbury, 13 Gonzalo Tiesi, 12 Jordan Turner-Hall, 11 Ugo Monye, 10 Chris Malone, 9 Danny Care, 8 Tom Guest, 7 Will Skinner (c), 6 Chris Robshaw, 5 Jim Evans, 4 Ollie Kohn, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Gary Botha, 1 Ceri Jones.
Replacements: 16 Tani Fuga, 17 Mark Lambert, 18 George Robson, 19 Nick Easter, 20 Andy Gomarsall, 21 Epi Taione, 22 Waisea Luveniyali.

Referee: Christophe Berdos (France)