Steff Evans bagged a brace of tries as the Scarlets claimed a 43-8 win against the Cheetahs in Llanelli to book a place in the Pro14 semi-finals. MARIETTE ADAMS reports.
The result brings down the curtain on the Cheetahs’ first Pro14 campaign as well as coach Rory Duncan’s tenure. But while they were hapless in this semi-final qualifier, their run up to this point has been nothing short of remarkable considering they’ve been in action since the start of the 2017 Super Rugby season without any meaningful break.
As for the Scarlets, their lofty ambitions of becoming the first-ever Welsh region to successfully defend its league title remain alive.
The Scarlets set the tempo from the outset. They controlled territory and possession, dominated the scrums, lineouts and contact area. But it was their inclination to keep the ball alive and play at a frenetic pace that the Cheetahs battled to live with.
Apart from Evans’ exploits, his Wales teammate Leigh Halfpenny also tormented the Cheetahs. The fullback only played 35 minutes before getting injured, but made a big impact, scoring a try, two conversions and a penalty.
With forwards and backs combining beautifully, the Scarlets worked their way down into the Cheetahs’ 22. Fortunately for the visitors, they won a relieving penalty, but a knock forward by Ox Nche was punished as the Scarlets quickly shifted the ball wide to Evans for a well-executed try.
— Clwb Rygbi (@yclwbrygbi) May 5, 2018
A scrum penalty close on halfway saw Halfpenny line up a kick, but when his effort bounced back off the far upright, Johan Goosen, for all his experience, made the terrible decision to run the ball out instead of exiting the danger zone via the boot. It backfired as his hasty offload isolated Paul Schoeman in possession, allowing Tadhg Beirne in over the ball to win a penalty.
This time Halfpenny eased the ball through the sticks and it wasn’t long after that when a lethal break from deep led to a self-converted try for the fullback.
Trailing 17-0, the Cheetahs gathered momentum, forcing an error from the Scarlets at the breakdown. Goosen converted the penalty into three much-needed points.
— Clwb Rygbi (@yclwbrygbi) May 5, 2018
The Cheetahs’ defence improved as the first half wore on and they twice held the Scarlets up over the tryline. But the hosts rediscovered their clinical edge, albeit through a piece of individual brilliance by Evans.
Running from the back, the winger shrugged off the tackle of Francois Venter before threading through and then collecting his own grubber kick to complete his brace and leave the Cheetahs reeling at 24-3.
— PRO14 RUGBY (@PRO14Official) May 5, 2018
The second half was hard labour for the Cheetahs and hard viewing for their fans, even more so than the first.
The passes didn’t stick, they conceded possession regularly and there was no defensive organisation to speak of. By contrast, the Scarlets maintained their ruthless edge.
Wing Tom Prydie was next to add his name to the scoresheet in the 44th minute, extending the Scarlets’ advantage to 31-3. Openside flank James Davies Schoeman then scored after the Scarlets set a maul and successfully drove over the tryline to put the game and the semi-final spot in the bag.
To rub salt in the wounds of the Cheetahs, replacement Jonathan Davies went over for the Scarlets’ sixth of the game.
Clayton Blommetjies scored a late try, but it was little consolation for his side.
Scarlets – Tries: Steff Evans (2), Leigh Halfpenny, Tom Prydie, James Davies, Jonathan Evans. Conversions: Halfpenny (2), Rhys Patchell (3). Penalty: Halfpenny.
Cheetahs – Try: Clayton Blommetjies. Penalty: Johan Goosen.
Scarlets – 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Tom Prydie, 13 Scott Williams, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 John Barclay, 7 James Davies, 6 Tadhg Beirne, 5 Steve Cummins, 4 Lewis Rawlins, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ken Owens (c), 1 Rob Evans.
Subs: 16 Ryan Elias, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 Aaron Shingler, 20 Will Boyde, 21 Jonathan Evans, 22 Dan Jones, 23 Steff Hughes.
Cheetahs – 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 William Small-Smith, 13 Francois Venter (c), 12 Niel Marais, 11 Sibahle Maxwane, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Uzair Cassiem, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Ox Nche.
Subs: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Tom Botha, 19 Rynier Bernardo, 20 Henco Venter, 21 Zee Mkhabela, 22 Clinton Swart 23 Lloyd Greeff.
Photo: Scarlets Rugby/Riley Sports Photo