SCARLETS maintained their 100 percent record in this season’s EPCR Challenge Cup with a see-sawing 45-26 bonus-point victory over the Toyota Cheetahs in Parma.
It was very much the proverbial game of two halves.
Scarlets produced one of their best 40 minutes of their season to run in five tries to lead 38-7 at the break, but spent most of the second period withstanding a determined Cheetahs rearguard.
Backing up their maximum haul against Aviron Bayonnais in round one, the win ensures the West Walians will be leading the way at the top of Pool 2 at the halfway mark of the pool stages.
Sione Kalamafoni, on his 50th appearance, produced another trademark display of carrying power to pick up the player of the match award, while Vaea Fifita was also a close contender with some stunning interventions.
Dane Blacker, Ioan Nicholas and the two-try Steff Evans also stood out as the Scarlets skip into derby season with two morale-boosting victories in Europe and already on he cusp of a place in the last 16.
After being led out by Ryan Elias for his 150th Scarlets game, it didn’t start well for the Welsh side, with the Cheetahs on the scoreboard inside three minutes through left wing Munier Hartzenberg, a try converted by veteran Ruan Pienaar.
But after that, cheered on by a vocal 60 or so fans at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, the Scarlets took total control of the contest.
Sam Costelow, who was deadly off the tee all afternoon, landed a ninth-minute penalty before a lovely looping pass put Steff Evans over in the corner.
Scarlets were playing with rapid tempo which forced the South African side into mistakes in their own territory and from a five-metre scrum, slick hands allowed Evans to dot down in the corner for his second.
Bursting with confidence, the Scarlets went looking for more.
A barnstorming run from Kalamafoni and a clever delayed pass from Costelow put Ryan Conbeer over for try number three – his sixth of the season – then Johnny McNicholl benefited from strong work from Evans and Nicholas at the breakdown which led to Fifita breaking away down the touchline and feeding the full-back with the inside pass.
It got better in the final minute of the half as Sam Lousi stretched out his palm to intercept on halfway before galloping to the line.
With Costelow converting every score, Scarlets were in dreamland at the interval.
Dwayne Peel’s men almost grabbed another at the start of the second half through Fifita, only for replays to show that Conbeer had been bundled into touch.
That prompted a concerted period of pressure on the visitors’ line, not helped by a string of penalty indiscretions which led to Fifita seeing yellow.
Cheetahs eventually broke the Scarlets defence on 63 minutes through centre Reinhardt Fortuin, then wing Daniel Kasende and back-rower Friedle Olivier ensured the ‘home’ team returned to South Africa with a try bonus-point for their efforts.
But it was the Scarlets who had the final word with replacement Ken Owens touching down from a line-out drive in the final throes of an absorbing game.