|European Challenge Cup: Scarlets v Toulon|
|Scarlets (8) 15|
|Tries: Davies, S Evans; Cons: Halfpenny Pens: Halfpenny|
|Toulon (24) 27|
|Tries: Etrillard, Dakuwaqa, Savea, Soury Cons: Belleau 2 Pens: Belleau|
Scarlets’ Challenge Cup quarter-final qualification hopes were dented after defeat by Toulon in Llanelli.
The French side secured their place in the last eight by clinching Pool Two in Llanelli with a round remaining of group matches.
Scarlets scored after a minute through Wales scrum-half Gareth Davies.
Toulon responded with tries from Anthony Etrillard, Maisivesi Dakuwaqa, Julian Savea and Bastssien Soury and the boot of Anthony Belleau.
In driving rain which never really relented, Scarlets were outmuscled by their French opponents who completed a double over their Welsh rivals and secured an attacking bonus point. South Africa’s World Cup winning second-row Eben Etzebeth was outstanding.
Head coach Brad Mooar will wonder how his side produced one of their most ineffective performances of the season in one of their most important games of the campaign so far.
Scarlets will now have to rely on one of the top three runners-up spots in the five groups to reach the last eight in Europe’s second tier tournament.
Mooar’s men will need to beat London Irish on 18 January with a victory combined with an unlikely set of results in the final weekend of European pool action.
Rhys Webb had been left out of Toulon’s squad with the Wales scrum-half’s decision to return to Ospreys next season and his renewed eligibility for his country in the Six Nations.
Toulon’s new owner Bernard Lemaitre suggested Webb would not play for the French club again.
His omission occurred despite coach Patrice Collazo saying he had been training with the squad as normal although said he was not psychologically ready to face Scarlets.
It deprived Webb of a potential showdown with Scarlets scrum-half Gareth Davies in the race for places in the Six Nations squad, which is due to be announced on Wednesday, 15 January.
Scarlets made three changes to the side that defeated Cardiff Blues 16-14 with wing Johnny McNicholl, prop Samson Lee and second-row Sam Lousi returning to the side following injury and illness.
Scarlets started perfectly with another try from Wales scrum-half Davies, after McNicholl collected a cross kick from Angus O’Brien.
Leigh Halfpenny maintained Scarlets’ early dominance with a penalty as they led 8-0 before the visitors responded in style.
It started with a try from a driving lineout from captain Etrillard before two uncharacteristic Halfpenny errors against his former side.
The Scarlets full-back made a mistake by taking the ball over his own line to set up an attacking Toulon scrum which set the platform for Fijian wing and Olympic Sevens gold medallist Maisivesi Dakuwaqa to power over in the corner.
The try came at a price though with Etrillard stretchered off which caused a long delay before Belleau missed a second conversion.
Another Halfpenny error occurred as he failed to gather a bouncing ball that allowed former All Blacks back Julian Savea to cross for Toulon’s third try which Belleau converted.
Toulon secured the bonus point try with another driving lineout effort finished by replacement hooker Soury with Belleau adding the extra two points to hand the French side a 24-8 interval lead.
Wales prop Rob Evans returned from a neck injury to come on at half-time. A tetchy affair was ignited by an early second-half melee involving opposition scrum-halves Baptiste Serin and Davies and new France captain Charles Ollivon.
Once tempers had calmed, Belleau slotted over a penalty before Toulon lost a second hooker to injury with Soury limping off with three props finishing the game in the front-row.
Scarlets attacked Toulon’s try line before Steff Evans crossed for a late score following clever work from replacements Dan Jones and Paul Asquith. Halfpenny converted but it mattered little.
Scarlets: Halfpenny; McNicholl, Hughes, Parkes, S Evans; O’Brien, G Davies; W Jones, Owens (capt), Lee, Ball, Lousi, Shingler, Macleod, Cassiem.
Replacements: Elias, R Evans, Kruger, Ratuva, J Morgan, Hardy, D Jones, Asquith.
Toulon: Heem; Dakuwaqa, Savea, Heriteau, Ikpefan; Belleau, Serin; Gros, Etrillard (capt), Gigashvili, Etzebeth, Taofifenua, Messam, Rebbadj, Ollivon.
Replacements: Soury, Fresia, Taofifenua, Ory, Cordin, Carbonel, Cottin, Alainu’uese,
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Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys (England).
Assistants: Adam Leal (England) & Phil Watters (England)
TMO: Claire Hodnett (England).
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