Scarlets 18-32 Leicester, Heineken Cup, January 15
Tigers too strong for Scarlets
January 15, 2011
Leicester scrum-half Ben Youngs breaks the tackle of the Scarlets' Josh Turnbull
© PA Photos
Leicester kept their Heineken Cup quarter-final hopes alive with a hard-fought 32-18 victory over the Scarlets in Llanelli.
Tries from winger Alesana Tuilagi, man of the match Ben Youngs and replacement Steve Mafi powered the Premiership side to a much-needed win, with fly-half Toby Flood weighing in with a crucial 17 points. The brave Scarlets grabbed the lead at the break thanks largely to a try from speedster Morgan Stoddart and the boot of Stephen Jones but in the end they had no answer to the Tigers' superior physicality and a second-half score for winger Sean Lamont was too little, too late.
The victory sees Leicester pull level with Perpignan - who crushed Treviso earlier in the day - at the top of Pool 5, with the Catalans in the driving seat going into the final round of matches next weekend due to their record against the Tigers. The Scarlets remain in the mix but must travel to Perpignan in their last pool clash, while Leicester host Treviso.
A wayward Leicester lineout handed the Scarlets the early initiative but the Tigers reclaimed their composure and eventually cleared the danger before launching their own impressive raid which was met with equally committed defence. Leicester then opted to kick for a lineout when handed a soft offside penalty and further pressure set up an attacking scrum in the shadow of the Scarlets' posts. The set-piece allowed Leicester to make an ominous statement of intent with a powerful surge resulting in a simple penalty for Flood.
Scarlets attempted to raise the tempo with ball in hand but Leicester's physicality proved a decisive factor, while their adventure in attack was rewarded with a second penalty for Flood after Scarlets fullback Rhys Priestland had been penalised for taking out winger Alesana Tuilagi as he looked to chase his own kick ahead.
The home side would not be swayed from their expansive approach and an excellent counter-attack brought them the first try of the game. Centre Jonathan Davies made the initial break, powering downfield and drawing fullback Scott Hamilton before feeding Stoddart on his outside. The winger then had the strength to weather the tackle of Tigers scrum-half Youngs and Tuilagi to touch down in the corner for a score which was converted by Jones.
A scrum penalty in favour of the Scarlets then drew a roar from the crowd but Priestland failed to turn the screw as his kick went dead in goal. The usual order at the scrum was soon restored but terrific defence from the Scarlets denied the Tigers any further advantage.
The ferocious nature of the breakdown exchanges made for an enthralling spectacle and some slick handling soon put Davies away down the touchline but the Scarlets' eagerness got the better of them, with centre Gareth Maule penalised for moving after the tackle in his quest to force his way over the Leicester line. But they were able to stretch their lead just past the half hour when Deacon was penalised for coming in from the side, allowing Jones to add to his tally.
The Scarlets' reluctance to kick to touch in favour of keeping the ball in play demanded a gruelling work rate but there were plenty of players willing to lead the charge. Jones sparked another break as the half drew to a close with flanker Rob McCusker cutting a great line in support. The ball was worked wide to tight-head Simon Gardiner, who took the wrong option in backing himself for the corner rather than feeding Stoddart outside him.
Jones had a chance to ensure they came away with at least three points when Tigers tight-head Martin Castrogiovanni was penalised for back chat but the Wales international pushed his kick wide on the stroke of half-time.
The Tigers reduced the arrears to one point within a minute of the re-start thanks to a Flood penalty, after a bouncing ball had caused problems for the Scarlets inside their own 22. But a high tackle from Mafi then gifted the Scarlets an attacking platform and an isolated Jordan Crane eventually conceded a penalty that enabled Jones to give his side a little more breathing room.
The dangerous Manu Tuilagi proved elusive on a fleet-footed break down the touchline a few moments later before Scarlets winger Sean Lamont was penalised for coming in from the side but Flood was unable to slot the difficult kick. However, the Tigers were soon celebrating a score.
Centre Anthony Allen made the crucial break in midfield and found support in lock George Skivington before some excellent hands from flanker Thomas Waldrom, hooker George Chuter and fullback Scott Hamilton put Alesana Tuilagi away and the powerful Samoan slid in to give his side the lead.
Flood once again failed from the kicking tee but he was handed another chance on the hour mark after the Tigers had struck again through Youngs. The latest in series of frenetic exchanges in midfield saw Waldrom pounce on a loose ball before setting his scrum-half away on a blistering break, with the England No.9 speeding away to the corner for a try - although replays suggested the visitors may have been a little lucky to avoid a penalty at the breakdown.
The conversion went astray once again to offer the Scarlets hope but they struggled to shake off the Tigers' vice-like grip in terms of territory and the visitors' scrum soon delivered a seemingly decisive one-two that enabled Flood to rediscover his touch and notch two penalties in the process.
The Scarlets were handed a lifeline when Waldrom was shown a yellow card for preventing a quick tap as the game entered the final five minutes the Tigers responded to the set back with their third try, with Mafi driving over from close range with a little help from his friends.
Flood wasted no time in slotting the conversion as the Tigers went looking for an unlikely bonus point try but it was the Scarlets who ended the game on the front foot, with a neat cross kick from Jones falling perfectly for Lamont, who crossed in the corner for a consolation try.
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum.