United Rugby Championship: Scarlets and Cardiff claim victories amid contract turmoil
The Scarlets and Cardiff put all the contract uncertainty in Welsh Rugby aside to deliver convincing victories over Edinburgh and Benetton, respectively, in the United Rugby Championship (URC) on Saturday.
Scarlets delivered a dominant home victory over Edinburgh, downing the Scottish outfit 42-14, while Cardiff defeated Benetton 30-13.
In an entertaining eight-try encounter, Scarlets outscored Edinburgh six tries to two. Ryan Conbeer, Vaea Fifita and Steff Evans all scored for the hosts, Sam Costelow adding the conversions to all three tries but missed one penalty in the first half. Murray McCallum scored Edinburgh’s only try of the first half, converted by Charlie Savala, as Scarlets led 21-7 at the break.
Dwayne Peel’s charges doubled their tally in the second half, with Conbeer scoring his second try soon after the break, with Gareth Davies and Eddie James rounding out the scoring. Dan Jones added the conversions on all three tries after replacing Costelow. Boan Venter scored the visitor’s second-half try as Savala was on point to add the extras.
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The hosts came into the game on the back of a run of seven wins in eight games and demonstrated that confidence with a slick move from a lineout on halfway.
The forwards led the way with a stream of turnovers and penalties to lay the platform, but the Scarlets were also happy to spread the ball wide to create opportunities.
Blindside wing Steff Evans and full-back Johnny McNicholl created the space on the left for wing Ryan Conbeer, who still had a fair bit to do to muscle his way over the line for the try.
There were no such problems for the second try as flanker Vaea Fifita earned himself a clear 60-yard run to the line after picking off a pass from Edinburgh centre James Lang.
Lang atoned with the break, which led to a short-range try for prop Murray McCallum, but it was the home side who finished the half the stronger, with lock Sam Lousi offloading for wing Evans to score.
The wing turned provider early in the second half, bumping off the tacklers to send the ball wide for Conbeer to add his second try.
Confidence oozed from the Scarlets with McNicholl deciding to run from deep, with a chip and chase seeing him past the first defenders, a pass putting Fifita in for a run to the line before he passed to scrum-half Gareth Davies once over the try line.
Edinburgh did have a spell of pressure which resulted in a try for prop Boan Venter, a predictably short-range effort after number eight Viliame Mata had lured in the defence.
The Scarlets had the last word as they ran through their party pieces in the closing minutes, replacement Eddie James making his debut and scoring a try under the posts.
Owen Lane brace helps Cardiff defeat Benetton
Wales international Owen Lane scored two early tries as Cardiff remained in URC play-off contention with a 30-13 victory over Benetton at the Arms Park.
The powerful wing struck twice in the opening seven minutes to underpin Cardiff’s bonus-point win, while Benetton had fly-half Tomas Albornoz was sent off six minutes from time for making contact with the eye area of an opposition player.
Number eight James Ratti and full-back Ben Thomas also crossed for the hosts, while Thomas kicked two penalties and two conversions.
Benetton trailed by just three points at half-time, but that was as close as they got despite tries by full-back Rhyno Smith and centre Marco Zanon, with Albornoz booting a penalty.
With Welsh rugby currently dominated by the possibility of a players’ strike over a freeze on professional contracts, there was an air of relief among the Arms Park crowd to see competitive action taking centre-stage.
Next Saturday’s Six Nations clash between Wales and England – to be played next door at the Principality Stadium – could be in doubt with a long-term agreement between the four professional regions and Welsh Rugby Union still to be signed off.
Players out of contact at the end of this season – believed to number between 70 and 100 in Wales – cannot be offered new deals in writing until agreement is reached.
Lane leads the way
Against that backdrop, scrum-half Lloyd Williams led Cardiff out on his 256th appearance – a club record for the professional era – and the game got off to a blistering start with three tries during the opening seven minutes.
Lane scored the first after just 90 seconds following a Cardiff lineout drive, then Smith replied with a slick Benetton score before Cardiff centre Max Llewellyn’s break set up Lane for his second touchdown.
Cardiff saw fly-half Jarrod Evans go off following a heavy midfield collision, with Matthew Morgan replacing him and Thomas moving from full-back into the number 10 position.
Prop Dimitri Arhip then limped off as Cardiff lost two players through injury inside the opening quarter, but it did not unsettle them as two Thomas penalties put them 11 points clear.
Benetton needed to cut the deficit before half-time, and Zanon obliged when he finished off patient build-up play before an Albornoz penalty meant Cardiff led 16-13 at the interval.
The visitors were temporarily reduced to 14 players just after the break, though, when referee Chris Busby yellow-carded Benetton prop Tiziano Pasquali for a scrummaging offence.
It gave Cardiff a chance to re-establish some momentum, and they claimed a third try after 50 minutes when Benetton struggled to contain sustained forward pressure.
Benetton were on the back foot, and Ratti went over, with Thomas’ conversion leaving the Italians 10 points adrift, and Cardiff comfortably closed things out.
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