SCARLETS PREVAIL IN WEST WALIAN THRILLER
Llanelli Scarlets: 22 (13) Edinburgh Rugby:21 (3)
At Murrayfield last weekend, Scotland did a fair bit of good things. But when the scoring chances came, they didn't take them. You can analyse that match as much as you like, pore over the bewildering range of stats that rugby seems to generate nowadays, but fundamentally, you only win matches if you score more points than the other lot. That takes accuracy in execution and cool heads - 'blue heads', as the All Blacks put it. Would the Gunners have that coolness under pressure in an important match against the Scarlets?
James Kerr has written a fantastic book: 'Legacy: 15 Lessons In Leadership'. Read it. It is another take on why the All Blacks have been the most successful international sporting team in history bar none. One of the 15 lessons is about dealing with pressure. To do that successfully, you must be 'loose, expressive, in the moment, calm, clear, accurate, on task.' You must play with a blue head. Those with red heads, by contrast, are 'desperate', among other things. Too often, desperation takes hold of Scottish sides. They need to keep the heid.
The surface at a sparsely populated Parc y Scarlets this evening brought to mind the Murrayfield nematode era, so poor did it look. But Llanelli kicked off with some lovely rugby on a blustery evening. Firstly, former Glasgow man DTH came close on the left wing within the first minute following poor Edinburgh work at the kick-off. After the Embramen had seemed to have steadied the ship, Morgan Allen scored a fantastic try off a long pass from Shingler. The No 8 dummied to the supporting DTH wide out, broke a tackle and cruised over, the touchdown goaled by Shingler on seven minutes.
After the Gunners had enjoyed some decent field position around the enemy 22, they were eventually turned over, allowing Llanelli to clear. Fowles was looking sharp at the breakdown and they were moving the ball wide. The Scarlets defence was pretty narrow and there were regularly numbers for the visitors wider out. Meanwhile, the Edinburgh scrummage was already looking strong, despite the absence of their first choice front row.
But the Welsh region won a penalty on 17 minutes as the Gunners took down an attacking maul illegally. Shingler converted the chance to put them a handy 10-0 up at the end of the first quarter. Shortly afterwards, the Embra pack smashed the red scrummage again, winning the penalty chance. Fowles, the blonde bombshell, stroked the kick over easy as you like to claw back three points as Shingler departed with an ankle injury.
On 22 minutes, Sutherland gave away a breakdown penalty not rolling away at the tackle, replacement Aled Thomas notching the simple three pointer for a 13-3 home advantage. Replacement hooker George Turner stole ball brilliantly in defence to set up Tom 'Schooldays' Brown to break superbly, setting up a number of attacking phases. But the Gunners did not quite create the width to exploit the opportunities. They were getting back into the contest, though, as half-time approached.
Another brilliant Brown break, after Ants Bresler won an enemy throw, saw the winger scorch to the home 22 but his offload didn't quite get to the supporting Allen with Watson prowling close by. A score then would have made it very much game on. So close. The Embramen were pinning Llanelli back and both Bresler and Toolis (B) were starting to boss the lineout. They needed to score next, though.
Then Toolis, Burleigh and Coman combined brilliantly to take the ball deep and at pace deep into the Llanelli 22. But they allowed the ball to be slowed down and enabled the Scarlets to funnel back. Eventually, they coughed up a breakdown penalty on 38 minutes. Fowles hit the post with the three point effort, though, and Edinburgh had nothing to show for their efforts. You really need to take these chances. Was the writing on the wall?
The Gunners started the second period like a train. A super run from Watson carried half the Llanelli pack for miles, there were offloads aplenty and the Scarlets gave away a dumb breakdown penalty, goaled by Fowles, all in the space of two minutes. There was tremendous pace about the visitors' play now and the Scarlets' defence was rocking. Better.
A super break from Rhodri Williams imediately afterwards should have seen him over from distance, but the impressive Fowles' excellent tackle halted him and Aaron Shingler's comical knock on at the breakdown gave the Gunners the chance to clear. But Andress was penalised at the scrummage and Thomas restored the 13 point lead. More cheap points given away - in a facet of the game where they were well on top.
Hoyland broke thrillingly from defence, following lovely work from Burleigh and Allen in traffic. The winger kicked ahead and seemed to be tripped in chasing the ball in the 22. Referee Brace and the touch judges saw nothing amiss, but one wonders whether the citing commissioner will take a closer interest. Watson was pinged on 53 minutes at the breakdown, a silly word pushed the spot 10 metres on and Thomas kicked a good penalty for a 19-6 home advantage. The Gunners backs were finding holes in the defence, cutting back against the grain, but Edinburgh were not quite getting the support runners there quickly enough.
Toolis (A) came on to join (B) and Jamie Ritchie on 56 minutes as Edinburgh again made good ground off great work from Turner and Allen. Both kept their feet long enough to put support runners through gaps with smart offloads.The Scarlets bundled the ball into touch giving the Embramen an attacking lineout. With the referee playing advantage for a cynical Scarlet offside at the close-in breakdown, Kennedy found du Preez for the big bearded guy to smash over between two defenders wide out. The tough conversion effort for Tonks was missed but it was 19-11 Scarlets going in to the final quarter and the momentum very much with the Gunners. This was turning into some match. A losing bonus - at least - was well within the capital club's capability and they were pinning the Welsh side in their half. Would they have the necessary blue heads?
On 62 minutes, Scarlets were penalised at the breakdown after Allen had clearly tackled an Edinburgh man without the ball. Tonks kicked to the corner. The maul rumbled but Kennedy's pass to Berghan was too hard and Llanelli had a defensive scrummage. But it was different front row, same result. Scarlets were pinged right in front of the posts for taking the scrum down and stand-in skipper Burleigh - rightly - went for the points. 19-14 Scarlets on 66 minutes as Tonks chipped the goal. Game quite definitely on and the Llanelli men were rattled.
On 70 minutes, Llanelli were pinged once again, experienced prop Jones was warned as Tonks booted the ball to the Scarlets' 22. A poor lineout was not a disaster as DTH was forced into touch five metres out for another Embra attacking lineout. They smashed the phases in repeatedly. The ball was then whipped wide by Kennedy to du Preez for one beardie to offload to another, Toolis (A), in the corner for the equalising score. Tonks scored a brilliant, Laney-esque conversion from the corner. 21-19 Embra with five minutes left. Time for blue heads to close this one out.
But Turner, who had had such a fine match, gave away a cheap offside penalty to give Thomas a chance to retake the lead on 76 minutes. That decided the match. It was a very close call and was given by the touch judge, who had the best view. A cool head on this young man, mind you, and it was 22-21 Scarlets after the successful kick. Edinburgh then so nearly unlocked the defence but Kinghorn was tackled into touch. As they closed it out, the Scarlets looked like a side that had got out of jail. In the end, the Gunners will see this as a match that they threw away, both with a poor start and by failing to kill the match at the end.
A fantastic performance by this Edinburgh side, the young folk in particular shining. It was a reminder that these guys really can play exciting, attacking rugby. Loads to build on and all that. But it is still what's going on between the ears that needs to be addressed.