Rugby: Scarlets put on a show against Jersey Reds
Deprived of the services of more than 20 players due to World Cup calls and injuries, the Scarlets nevertheless had far too much firepower for their hosts.
The Welsh regional side carved open the Jersey Reds’ defence on numerous occasions at St Peter on Saturday and chalked up seven tries in a convincing victory.
The Reds managed three tries of their own and could take encouragement from their forwards’ ability to compete against top flight opposition, but found out that beating a World Cup-bound national side, as happened in Moscow 11 days previously, doesn’t mean you can cut it against PRO14 opponents.
The visitors made their presence felt within two minutes thanks to a superb run from full-back Johnny McNicholl. Cutting into the line as the Scarlets made use of ball from the opening scrum, the Kiwi left fellow countryman Leroy Van Dam and former Scarlet Tom Williams clutching at air before unloading to Tom James, who finished in the airport corner.
Scrum-half Kieran Hardy was only given 30 minutes of game-time against his former club, with the Scarlets including three number 9s in their squad. But he still had time to impress with some slick distribution and pacy line breaks.
The Reds had their moments with good runs from Auguy Slowik and Will Homer, and also looked solid at scrum-time. The absence of Leeroy Atalifo on World Cup duty with Fiji is a significant loss, but will be less pronounced if Alec Clarey continues to impress on his return from the injury that saw him miss 95% of last season. The man from County Durham was named as the Reds’ man-of-the-match for his efforts.
Eventually the hosts grabbed a score back when Jack Macfarlane rumbled over from a maul, and could have trimmed the deficit further in the final play of the half. George Spencer went for an interception in the Welsh side’s 22, but the ball was just knocked on when the centre would have been under the posts had he caught it.
The Scarlets had introduced an entirely new XV by the time they trotted back on to the Stade Santander International turf after the break. The Reds remained as they had lined up at 3pm, with the exception of absent captain Apakuki Ma’afu. The Tongan centre went down with a leg injury after 20 minutes, and limped off shortly afterwards having failed to recover – the Reds face an anxious couple of days before the extent of the injury becomes clear.
The half-time margin was widened by the visitors within five minutes of the resumption. Ryan Conbeer went close in the corner and then the ball was fed infield and Steffan Hughes crossed near the posts.
Play was stopped while Scarlets’ Taylor Davies was treated for a head injury – the replacement hooker was stretchered off and went to hospital for a precautionary check-up having recovered consciousness.
A stream of penalty concessions put the home side on the back foot, and from one award fly-half Angus O’Brien took full advantage. Many present may have expected him to kick for the scoreboard corner, but he turned and chipped the ball across the pitch towards the pavilion, where it was easily caught and grounded by the unmarked Tom Prydie.
With another ten replacements joining the fray, the Reds grabbed one back through TJ Harris – another well-worked catch-and-drive finished by the Red hooker – but the visitors finished strongly with three tries in the last 15 minutes. Lewis Rawlins powered over from a maul, O’Brien made the most of an overlap in the corner and then Conbeer scored the try of the day as he chased from inside his 22, resisted a body-check from Liam Howley near half-way and gathered the ball to stretch over the line by the scoreboard. O’Brien’s conversion was his side’s seventh from as many attempts.
Jack Stapley had the final word for the hosts, going over in the airport corner in the last minute.
Reds director of rugby Harvey Biljon said: ‘It’s always disappointing to lose, albeit that it’s less painful in pre-season.
‘As players and coaches I hope we go away and learn from this – we’ve been shown how far we still need to go if we want to continue to improve as a team.’
Scarlets head coach Brad Mooar, who took on the role this summer, said: ‘It was a really exciting first game – we created a lot of chances in the first half and our execution let us down a few times, but we did really well in the second half.
‘We had several new players and others coming back from long-term injury and I was really pleased with the way they performed.’
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