All the pre-match talk for this Guinness PRO12 encounter surrounded both sides being depleted by international call-ups and how much the expected inclement weather could play into the hands of Scotland and Scarlets flanker John Barclay—a master of the breakdown battle, and with a point to prove after being repeatedly snubbed by the Scotland selectors. As it turned out, the predictions were right, and the breakdown was where most of the action happened with the former Glasgow Warriors back rower relishing the conditions as captain from number 8. Barclay’s evening was ended early after he took a head knock in contact and, despite passing the Head Injury Assessment, he wasn’t risked in the physical encounter. Rory Pitman, his replacement, spent some time with the Warriors in 2011. The back-rower also impressed after his early introduction and got the only try of the match three minutes from time, which condemned Gregor Townsend’s men to just their second defeat this season.
It’s hard not to feel sorry for 18-year-old tighthead prop Zander Fagerson, who was unceremoniously hauled off barely 30 minutes into his first start for the Warriors. He has impressed off the bench this season, and was again looking good in the loose, but Irish referee David Wilkinson wasn’t happy with his scrum technique, particularly his binding, and, after a number of penalties and chats with Warriors captain Al Kellock, Fagerson was axed for the experienced Rossouw de Klerk. It was probably the harshest welcome to professional rugby for any young prop and one he will need to overcome quickly, but Warriors captain Al Kellock insists that will happen. The Warriors also brought in two debutants. Scotland U20s scrum-half Ali Price enjoyed a great introduction in the opening 40 minutes before being withdrawn for the pace and experience of Niko Matawalu. Price had looked assured in training all week, and he carried that through to the match at the Parc y Scarlets handling the greasy ball well, exiting reasonably well, and solid in zipping the ball to bring his fellow backs into play. There was also plenty of good running from the former Bedford Blues man. Glenn Bryce, another debutant, came off the bench late in the match, but didn’t have much of a chance to impose himself on the match.
Steffan Evans at full-back put in another solid shift and rarely looked out of place against the PRO12’s top try-scorers this season. Some typical Scarlets counter-attacking, solid under the high ball and in defence. Only a lack of composure with the tryline begging on several occasions prevented the Scarlets winning this by a more comfortable margin. They had the Warriors on the back foot so often, especially in the first half as they dominated territory and possession, while the penalty count also went in the hosts’ favour. James Davies—young brother of British and Irish Lions centre Jonathan, and still sporting one of the best moustaches you’ll see in Movember—showcased his talent with some superb direct running and was a beast in contact. The 24-year-old former Carmarthen Quins flanker, who has enjoyed a spell with Wales 7s and was in the Wales Possibles side in the summer, put in a man of the match performance for his swashbuckling efforts.
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