PORT ELIZABETH – Defending champions Scarlets from Llanelli in Wales overcame a spirited performance from the Southern Kings to win 34-30 at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
The Scarlets came to South Africa without a host of their leading players who were on duty for the Wales national team, and they had to dig deep to overturn a challenging second-half deficit.
They produced four tries in the end for an invaluable bonus-point win away from home.
The visitors opened the scoring in the fifth minute when strong running from their backline carved up acres of space, and lock Tadgh Beirne was up in support to score between the posts.
The Kings were on the board five minutes later with an excellent touchdown when flyhalf Oliver Zono’s kick-pass in the Scarlets’ 22 found right wing Michael Makase.
Zono was at it again a few minutes later when a fine team movement swept upfield, and when he had time on the ball in the Scarlets’ 22, he threaded a grubber through for fullback Yaw Penxe to gather and dot down.
Again the conversion was missed to leave the home team 10-7 in front.
That became 13-7 when Zono kicked his first penalty, but Jones pulled back a three-pointer six minutes before the break.
Zono had the last say of the half, though, when he landed a penalty after the hooter for a 16-10 lead.
The Kings could not have asked for a better start to the second half when centre Martin du Toit exploded through a gap in the opposition midfield and went unmarked to the sticks.
Zono’s conversion gave the Kings a healthy 23-10 lead.
The visitors kept on attacking and their second try came via left wing Ioan Williams, who found himself unmarked out wide after a number of slick phases.
The Scarlets’ revival continued when former Bulls prop Werner Kruger bulldozed over, and suddenly the Kings were trailing 23-24 with a quarter of the match remaining.
Jones stretched that lead with his second penalty, but with 15 minutes to go, the Kings threw the cat among the pigeons when an up-and-under bounced in the Scarlets’ in-goal area and Harlon Klaasen pounced for the try.
But the score once more changed hands when, with just 10 minutes remaining, flyhalf Dan Jones darted through to the line off the back of a solid scrum, which he converted for what would be an unassailable lead.
Kings 30 – Tries: Michael Makase, Yaw Penxe, Martin du Toit, Harlon Klaasen. Conversions: Oliver Zono (1), Kurt Coleman (1). Penalties: Zono (2)
Scarlets 34 – Tries: Tadgh Beirne, Ioan Williams, Werner Kruger, Dan Jones. Conversions: Dan Jones (4). Penalties: Jones (2).
African News Agency (ANA)