BOAN VENTER propelled himself under the posts and over the opposition’s try-line in the second minute of injury-time to set up an easy conversion for Nathan Chamberlain which salvaged a well-deserved draw for Edinburgh in their final match of the 2020-21 season at Parc y Scarlets this afternoon.
It was a game with nothing riding on it, so the home team perhaps didn’t defend those final minutes with the same conviction as you’d expect in a truly meaningful encounter, but the visitors should still take credit for digging deep to score two late tries – Venter’s second from a passage of play which started near their own line – to claim a share of the spoils.
“The boys don’t give up,” said satisfied visiting head coach Richard Cockerill afterwards. “Last week [against Ulster] was very similar. I’d prefer not to be 14-points behind but the spirit of the team was never in question.
“I thought we did some good things, and thought it was a good game. Both sides entered into the spirt of it. We probably felt we had more of the game than the score suggested, but I am delighted we stayed in the game as we deserved the draw.”
Cockerill added that it was a performance which reinforces his belief that better times lie ahead for his side next season after the trials and tribulations of a hopelessly disjointed 2020-21 campaign.
“We have all had tough seasons in various ways, us more than most,” he surmised. “We’ve got a good core of players, some good guys arriving [in the summer], and that was a real positive performance to end with from us, particularly from our attack.
“We have been a bit sloppy in our attack, it has been a bit turgid, but we have good players, and we want to expand our game. We had some forward power, some real threat in the backline, and it makes the trip home a little bit easier.”
On a glorious day in South Wales, both teams demonstrated from the start that they had come to play. Scarlets drew first blood on nine minutes when a good line-out drive followed by some slick handling play culminated in full-back Tom Rogers offloading out of contact to send scrum-half Kieran Hardy over.
Edinburgh responded well, launching several waves of attack.
First Heriot’s Super6 centre Cameron Hutchison showed again – as he did off the bench against Ulster last week – that he’s got the pace, power and rugby ability to thrive at this level, and an excellent burst through midfield looked certain to create a try for Henry Pyrgos, were it not for a Scarlets defender managing to paw down what should have been the killer pass.
Then, a few minutes later, Mesulame Kunavula’s strength in the tackle and handling ability created an opportunity for fellow Fijian Eroni Sau on the left touchline, but the winger’s foot strayed out of play as he rampaged past his opposite number.
Then, a stolen line-out created the opportunity for James Johnstone, Hutchison and Jack Blain to all make good ground, but Blair Kinghorn lost control as he stretched for the line.
Finally, the visitors levelled it on 24 minutes with Marshall Sykes burrowing over after Scarlets were harassed into conceding a close-range penalty when trying to play their way out from behind their own try-line.
This time it was Scarlets’ turn to respond positively with Hardy catching Edinburgh out with a quick tap-penalty which saw him scamper over halfway before returning the earlier favour by sending Rogers home. That made it 14-7 to the hosts at the break.
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Scarlets were reduced to 14 men for 10 minutes early in the second half when Morgan Jones caught Conor Boyle on the head at a ruck, and the second-row can perhaps count himself lucky that he only received a yellow card. Edinburgh took immediate advantage with captain Jamie Ritchie bustling under the posts just a minute later.
Unfortunately, the flanker – who will captain Scotland this summer – picked up a hip injury a few minutes later and was replaced by Glasgow Warriors bound Ally Miller. It isn’t thought likely that the injury will stop him joining up with the national squad on Tuesday, when they will begin preparation for this summer’s three-match schedule against England A on Sunday 27th June, Romania on 10th July and Georgia on 17th July.
Edinburgh kept the pressure on during the remainder of that spell with an extra man but couldn’t translate it into any more points on the scoreboard, and they then found themselves down to 14 men when Blain was yellow carded following a collision with Steff Evans whilst contesting a high ball.
Hardy went over for his second try following some slick Scarlets handling to make it 21-14 to the visitors with quarter of an hour left to play, and it looked like the hosts had sealed the win with their bonus-point claiming fourth try for replacement hooker Daffyd Jones from a powerful line-out drive on 73 minutes.
Edinburgh, however, had other ideas, and Blain announced his arrival back on the park with a powerful midfield interjection at a great angle to set up a straight-forward conversion for replacement stand-off Chamberlain.
Then, from possession deep inside their 22, Edinburgh showed great composure to take possession the length of the park to get within range for Venter’s crucial 82nd minute score.
Scarlets: T Rogers (W Homer 67); R Conbeer (J Roberts 58), T Morgan, S Hughes, S Evans; D Jones (S Costelow, 53), K Hardy; S Thomas (R Evans 44), R Elias (D Hughes 59), P Scholtz (S Lee 44), J Helps, M Jones (D Drake 58), B Thomson, J Morgan, U Cassiem (I Rees 70).
Edinburgh: K Rowe (N Chamberlain 62); J Blain, J Johnstone, C Hutchison (G Taylor 61), E Sau; B Kinghorn, H Pyrgos (C Shiel 53); P Schoeman (B Venter 63), M Willemse (D Cherry 44), A Williams (S Berghan 44), M Sykes, J Hodgson, J Ritchie (A Miller 53), C Boyle ( L Crosbie 47), M Kunavula.
Referee: F Murphy (Ireland).
Scarlets: Tries: Hardy 2, Rogers, Hughes; Con: D Jones 2, Costelow 2
Edinburgh: Tries: Sykes, Ritchie, Blain, Venter; Con: Kinghorn 2, Chamberlain 2.
Scoring sequence (Edinburgh first): 5-0; 7-0; 7-5; 7-7; 12-7; 14-7; 14-12; 14-14; 19-14; 21-14; 26-14; 28-14; 28-19; 28-21; 28-26; 28-28.
Yellow cards –
Scarlets: M Jones (46mins)
Edinburgh: Blain (64mins)