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Blues Falter As Scarlets Leapfrog Them Into Second

jmcconnell 21 Mar 2008

The super-charged Llanelli Scarlets tallied up 20 unanswered points during the second half of their Magners League clash with Cardiff Blues to not only overhaul their Welsh rivals on the Stradey Park pitch but also leapfrog them in the table.

It was second plays third at Stradey Park and by the end of a pulsating 80 minutes, the Scarlets had managed to reverse the league positions thanks to an impressive display.

There was no Grand Slam hangover for Wales fly-half Stephen Jones and just as he did against France last week, he had quite an influence on proceedings by contributing 15 points to the Scarlets’ winning tally.

He was a central figure as the hosts scored 20 unanswered points during a devastating 19-minute spell in the second half.

The Blues were missing key men like like Gethin Jenkins, Tom Shanklin and Martyn Williams, with coach Dai Young resting them ahead of the fast-approaching Heineken Cup quarter-final against Toulouse.

But Welsh squad members Gareth Thomas, John Yapp and Robin Sowden-Taylor did start for the visitors.

Jones was joined at half-back by Dwayne Peel but the Scarlets were behind within five minutes of the start as this South Wales derby sprung into life.

The home side had the first attack as pacy full-back Morgan Stoddart dashed down the touchline before former Wales captain Gareth Thomas brought the move to a halt.

Just minutes later, the game’s opening try arrived at the other end when Blues scrum half Richie Rees took a quick tap and a case of numbers out wide allowed winger Jamie Roberts to comfortably run in the score.

Ben Blair, the New Zealand-born full-back, stepped up to land the difficult conversion and Cardiff’s hopes of first away win in the league since winning at the Dragons six months ago were boosted.

The hosts replied six minutes later with their first try and it was an excellent score from prop Iestyn Thomas.

After a pass from Gavin Evans had put Regan King clear, Thomas was up in support to gleefully take the centre’s popped pass and score in the corner.

Jones missed the conversion to leave it 7-5 but it did not stay that way for long as the Blues hit back with a try in the 17th-minute.

After a surge off a close-in lineout, lock Scott Morgan rumbled over to bag his first try of the campaign and allow Blair to convert and push his side into a nine-point lead.

Not content to sit back, the Scarlets hit back with an immediate response. Stoddart slashed his way through the visitors’ defence on another excellent run and his offload put centre Evans scampering over for a seven-pointer.

Blair then missed a penalty chance but after Scarlets lock Adam Eustace had been sin-binned for killing ruck ball, the Blues’ number 15 did kick his side into a 17-12 lead.

The Scarlets recovered well to allow Jones reply with a 38th-minute penalty kick, which cut the gap to two points for the interval.

Turning around with the wind at their backs, the home side carved out an immediate penalty opportunity on the restart, however Jones was narrowly wide with his effort.

The former Clermont Auvergne player made amends in the 54th-minute when he thumped a penalty through the uprights to hand Llanelli a lead they would never relinquish – 18-17.

Just coming up to the hour mark, Peel increased his influence as a strong tackle by Alix Popham on Blair dislodged the ball and the Scarlets scrum half was on hand to gobble possession up and race over from all of halfway.

It was a real sucker-punch score for Cardiff to concede and with Jones converting and then adding a 71st-minute penalty, the visitors’ challenge was clearly coming off the rails.

Try as they might, the Blues just could not trouble the scoreboard and Llanelli clinically tightened their grip on the game.

Some neat build-up play involving Dafydd Jones and Matthew Watkins helped winger Dafydd James scorch over for the bonus point try.

Stephen Jones tagged on the extras to put the result beyond doubt and the Scarlets’ fifth straight home win in the league sets up a mouth-watering encounter with current leaders Leinster at Stradey Park on Saturday week.