Castres v Scarlets, Heineken Cup, January 21
Scarlets snatch Amlin quarter
January 21, 2012
Aaron Shingler scored a crucial late try for the Scarlets
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The Scarlets battled to a 16-13 victory over Castres on Saturday, booking a place in the Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-finals.
Stephen Jones' late kick and a 90-metre interception try from flanker Aaron Shingler claimed a deserved win for the Welsh region and the runners-up spot in Pool 1 of the Heineken Cup, which ensured their European season is not over.
Northampton's home defeat to Munster in Milton Keynes aided the Scarlets' cause, but head coach Nigel Davies will be delighted with the grit shown by his side, who were missing a host of regular starters through injury.
The only downside for the Scarlets was a second-half injury to Wales fly-half Rhys Priestland, which will be a worry for national coach Warren Gatland so close to the Six Nations.
Davies had been forced into making nine changes from the side that lost to the Saints in Llanelli the previous week, but it was hardly noticeable in the first quarter.
The Scarlets dominated the early exchanges and were rewarded for their endeavour with a 10th-minute penalty from Priestland. Playing with their trademark verve and adventure, the Welsh region were causing the Castres defence all sorts of problems and it came as no surprise when they were celebrating the game's opening try thanks to a superb individual effort from No.8 Matt Gilbert - on his first European start.
Wales centre Jonathan Davies, who was a constant threat, made the critical burst, but Gilbert still had plenty of work to do to beat the last defender and race into the corner. Priestland missed the conversion, and the Castres faithful then thought their side had pulled a try back when France wing Marc Andreu dived in at the corner.
Referee JP Doyle consulted the television match official and he adjudged the diminutive speedster had put a foot in touch. Priestland missed a chance to extend the visitors' advantage by pushing a penalty wide on 26 minutes and Davies and flanker Richie Pugh were soon denied tries by last-ditch defence.
Instead, with mistakes and ill-discipline creeping into the Scarlets' game, it was the home side who finished an entertaining half the stronger. South African recruit Rory Kockott put his side on the board with a penalty on 33 minutes and landed another two minutes before the interval to make it 8-6 at the turnaround.
In contrast to the opening half, it was Castres who flew out of the blocks in the second, and it took some stubborn defence from the Scarlets on their own line to keep the home side out. The visitors lost Priestland to a leg injury on 53 minutes - a concern not only for the Scarlets, but Gatland just a couple of weeks before the Six Nations opener against Ireland in Dublin. Then, with Castres again pressing the Scarlets' line, Shingler produced his remarkable intervention.
Snaffling a pass 90 metres out, the flanker showed tremendous pace and stamina to outstrip two Castres backs to the line. Crucially, though, Jones missed with the conversion and, after spilling the restart, the visitors were left to defend for their lives in the final quarter.
Wing Liam Williams produced a try-saving tackle in the corner on Romain Martial, but with Castres No.8 Chris Masoe to the fore, all the pressure told with replacement Yannick Forestier driving over from close range. Fullback Romain Teulet squared things up with the conversion, then Jones pushed another penalty attempt wide.
With the game resting on a knife edge, Jones had another chance to win it on 78 minutes and this time made no mistake to claim another memorable win for the Scarlets on French soil.
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