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Rugby | Pro14

Tadhg Beirne © Getty Images

Scarlets hold on against spirited Kings



A 17-point surge in the third quarter was just enough to help the Scarlets avoid suffering a shock Guinness Pro14 defeat to the Southern Kings as the champions held on for a 34-30 win in a fast game at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Sunday.

It was the first Sunday game played in the competition in Port Elizabeth and those who pitched up would not have complained about the entertainment provided.

Those who were Kings supporters though would have gone home feeling just a little frustrated that their team was unable to pull off what would have been an epic victory over the tournament champions from Llanelli.

The fact that the Scarlets are without several players on their South African tour because of international commitments might bring a bit of perspective as to how the team from the Eastern Cape came so close, but while they were missing their stars there was no denying the organisation and the calmness and composure of the Welsh team.

So the Kings' performance was a creditable one and they again showed signs of being on a sharp upward curve when it comes to learning and improvement, just like was the case in their last home game against Ulster.

The Kings also came up just short on that occasion, and rued missed opportunities.

The missed chance that the Kings would have lamented after their clash with the Scarlets was the poor pass that went through Andile Ntsila’s hands when the hosts were attacking the Scarlets line with two minutes left on the clock.

Once they were put in possession they were able to easily run down the clock and thus avert defeat. Next time they are in that position the Kings will hope to show more patience.

But the Kings have rediscovered the potency to their wide game that made them so dangerous with mostly different players in Super Rugby, and a much improved defensive game against a Scarlets side that has a great offload and passing game is also testimony to good coaching.

Not that the defence was completely without blemish and impressive visiting inside centre Paul Asquith slid through too easily for the break that set up the first Scarlets try in the sixth minute of the game.

The 21 year old Scarlets flyhalf Dan Jones, who did not miss a kick in the match, slotted the conversion to put his side 7-0 ahead.

The Kings though showed great spirit in fighting straight back and going onto the attack, with flyhalf Oliver Zondo’s excellent cross kick being plucked out of the air on the corner flag by wing Michael Makase for a try that drew the Kings back to within two points.

Another good kick, this time a grubber from centre Berton Klaasen, sent in Yaw Penxe, who was a constant thorn in the side of the Welsh defenders from fullback, a few minutes later and the Kings found themselves leading 10-7 after 17 minutes.

Zono was being attended to by the medical staff so did not attempt the conversion, which was missed by scrumhalf Rudi van Rooyen, who is not a regular kicker.

FIGHTBACK

However, Zono was up to kick from the tee when a penalty was awarded the Kings' way in the 25th minute and the successful kick stretched their lead to six points.

Jones converted a breakdown penalty just beyond the half hour mark to bring the Scarlets to within three points only for Zono to raise the flags on the stroke of halftime to make it 16-10 to the home team at the break.

The Kings were full value for that lead and although they weren’t always that sure of their own lineout ball, their scrums were strong, as evidenced by former Bulls tighthead Werner Kruger being penalised for standing up in the face of a solid challenge from the Kings unit.

Inside centre Martin du Toit used his stepping ability to glide over the line just two minutes after the restart and with the conversion making it a 13 point lead for the Kings, the home supporters and players would have been sniffing an upset.

However, the Scarlets need to be applauded for their composure and refusal to panic.

Their fightback started when a pinpoint skip pass put wing Ioan Nicholas over in the corner in the 51st minute after they’d elected to set a scrum near the Kings posts from a penalty.

Incidentally, by that stage Bakkies Botha’s old mate Mike Phillips, the celebrated former Welsh and British and Irish Lions scrumhalf, was on the field after answering an SOS to help out.

Kruger scored the third Scarlets try by driving over the line in the 56th minute, but the score was really the product of the Welsh team’s excellent passing and off-load game that gave them the field position.

The Kings were starved of the ball in the third quarter and when Jones kicked a penalty in the 61st minute to give the Scarlets a four point lead (27-23) it looked like they were going to draw away from the Kings and win comfortably.

Full marks then to the Kings for the way they fought back and took the lead back after replacement centre Harlon Klaasen had made a strong tackle on a Welsh player in his own half that dislodged the ball.

A kick through then bounced kindly for Klaasen who dotted the ball down between the posts.

Jones capped his good performance by picking up a loose ball near the fringes and scoring the sort of try you’d more likely see from a scrumhalf to reclaim the lead for his team with just on 10 minutes remaining.

The Kings had their chances after that but it wasn’t to be and their challenge was effectively ended when that loose pass went into touch.

It was a triumph for the more composed team but the Kings are learning and improving and shouldn’t be too disheartened.

SCORES

Scarlets 34 – Tries: Tadhg Beirne, Ioan Nicholas, Werner Kruger and Dan Jones; Conversions: Dan Jones 4; Penalties: Dan Jones 2.

Southern Kings 30 – Tries: Michael Makase, Yaw Penxe, Martin du Toit and Harlon Klaasen; Conversions: Oliver Zono and Kurt Coleman; Penalties: Oliver Zono 2.



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